November 10, 2009

Second Attempt At Solar Sail Planned

The Planetary Society on Monday announced plans to launch its second attempt at a spacecraft that will be powered by the sun.

The first time the society attempted to launch a solar sail five years ago, it fell short of its orbital target and landed in the ocean.

"We are going to merge the ultra-light technology of nanosats with the ultra-large technology of solar sails in an audacious new program-- setting a course to the stars," said Louis D. Friedman, co-founder of The Planetary Society.

The society announced plans to launch the LightSail-1 in 2010 as the first of three planned solar sail crafts. The project has received a $1 million anonymous donation in order to boost productivity.

"After our first solar sail, Cosmos 1, was lost, we asked our members, "ËœShould we try again?' We heard a resounding, "ËœYes! Go for it!'," the society said in a statement on its Web site.

"So we kept investigating all the possibilities, and now, thanks to your continued support -- including the million dollar donation "“ we've assembled a great mission team of top engineers and scientists, and we're moving ahead."

The society said LightSail-1 is intended to "demonstrate that sunlight can propel a spacecraft in Earth orbit."

"LightSail 2 and 3, more ambitious still, will reach farther into space," it added.

The craft will be carried by light pressure from the sun, while monitoring the sun for solar storms, providing stable Earth observation platforms and exploring the solar system without heavy propellants.

Light photons bounce onto a mirror-like aluminized Mylar sail, creating momentum that could carry the spacecraft further into space.

"Photons have no mass but lots of energy, so a solar sail space probe requires no onboard fuel," said the group, adding that Russia, the US and the European Space Agency each have initiated solar sail projects, but they were cut back due to money issues.

"Sailing on light is a pathway to the stars, but on that path are also some very important scientific and engineering applications that help us understand and protect our own planet and explore other worlds," said president Jim Bell.

"This technology also opens up many new possibilities for piggyback launching into Earth orbit, which is desperately needed since launch vehicles have been a hindrance preventing solar sail flight," the society said.

"We're considering several launch possibilities and will select the most reliable one that matches our schedule and final orbit choice best."


Image Caption: Artists rendition of LightSail-1 by Rick Sternbach. Credit: Planetary Society


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