Like this, but in California | Photo: The Planetary Society, CC-BY-NC 3.0
Yesterday, May 24, the Lightsail team over at the Planetary Society passed a major milestone. Lightsail 2 passed its “Day-In-The-Life” test.
Last year’s successful test of Lightsail 1 was a good test run, but the craft wasn’t sent high enough to actually, you know, “sail.” Even at a couple hundred miles up, there was still enough drag from the teeny-tiny bits of atmosphere to cancel out any kind of light-based maneuvering it could have done. All that mission was designed to do was test the sail’s deployment and communication systems — which it did, even if there were minor failures.
Lightsail 2 has been built, and yesterday at CalPoly San Luis Obispo they ran it through a whole day of regular operations — minus the whole “being in space” thing. This tests out all the communication systems (as well as the team of people who’ll be controlling it) and even the booms for sail deployment, which worked almost perfectly. There was one minor snafu — for some reason the motor driving the boom extension didn’t shut off, and they had to manually fix that, but that’s what the tests are for (and they’re already working on fixing it)!
So: a hearty congratulations for the Lightsail team and the Planetary Society on today’s test. The second Lightsail will be launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy — so it might be a little while before launch, since that rocket doesn’t technically exist yet. But the first Heavy should go up later this year, with Lightsail’s ticket sometime in 2017.
For more on the story, wander on over to planetary.org!
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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.