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LightSail presented at Aerospace Mechanisms Symposium

Posted by Bruce Betts

31-05-2012 15:10 CDT

Topics: Planetary Society Projects, mission status, solar sailing, spacecraft, LightSail, Planetary Society

I received a nice note from Chris Biddy about a presentation he gave a couple weeks ago about The Planetary Society's LightSail 1™ project. Chris is a LightSail team member and Vice President of Engineering at Stellar Exploration Inc. Here is what he reported:

"I presented a paper entitled "LightSail 1 solar sail design and qualification" at the 41st annual Aerospace Mechanism Symposium in Pasadena CA on May 18th. The paper covered the overall design and configuration of the spacecraft as well as lessons learned during development. The audience of about 300 people were very interested and many good questions were asked about the design and function of the solar sail. Many TPS members were involved in the conference and were very excited to see the progress of LightSail 1."

His presentation gives an overview of LightSail and then focuses in on some of the mechanical aspects of the spacecraft as well as some of the testing and has some excellent images and diagrams. Check it out.

See other posts from May 2012


Or read more blog entries about: Planetary Society Projects, mission status, solar sailing, spacecraft, LightSail, Planetary Society


bware: 05/31/2012 04:32 CDT

Question- yes we fund this. I understand that. But we want to fly. So... When SpaceX finishes the COTS Flight Tests --- IF OSC --- now, here's my point if SX & OSC agree -- If SpaceX can get us to ISS altitude and OSC can kick us the additional 600 kilometers on their booster would they be willing to give us both vehicles? (pending SX's lift ability with Falcon) {SX - SpaceX : OSC - Orbital Sciences Corporation} --- We need to let them know that this is a Flight Test also to prove or disprove the solar sailing concept and that we do have 2 Flight Articles as well as having NASA's green light for flight manifest pending a LV. At worst they can say "No." Tus we still wait. As for the stress data on our S/C can the Falcon & an OSC booster cusion us inside the parameters during flight? The engineers from all 3 parties will have to answer that question. It can't hurt to meet and discuss this. The space flight propulsion outcome is worth the R&D in publicity alone as long as the investors on those companies understand that this is testing solar flight theory to see if it is possible or not. Honestly, we do not know. One camp say yes the other no and the final IDK! (I don't know!). Again I say/write it can't hurt to ask. Yes I dream outside the envelope. And so do the solar sail creators. I hope this theory becomes a can do fact!

bware: 05/31/2012 07:15 CDT

That was a nice article. Thanks! One of the diagram measurements (the "U") scale left me in the dark. There was a temperature concern at deployment that required more current to have deployment. What was the temperature range that caused that problem? Was it space environment temperatures or warmer that caused it? Thanks.

bware: 05/31/2012 07:20 CDT

1 other question regarding temperature: Is the current level problem fixed or how does a load increase get applied if needed? Thanks.

Rohan: 06/15/2012 04:54 CDT

Based on the current technology, up to what precision can the sail angles be fine tuned to achieve a desired configuration for a specific trajectory or orbital station keeping?

Rohan: 06/15/2012 04:57 CDT

In addition, what do you use (thrusters/momentum wheels) and how powerful to change the orientation of the sail. Though it is given that the change won't be instantaneous, the duration of time spent to change the orientation will change the final trajectory but for preliminary analysis, instantaneous change can provide useful insight.

Bruce Betts: 06/21/2012 04:33 CDT

Some responses to questions: We are actively discussing getting a launch from various rocket providers and flexibly exploring options. Our challenge is always the need to get above traditional low Earth orbit, up to an altitude where solar pressure dominates over atmospheric drag (very roughly in the 800 km altitude range). Temperature range for deployment tests were over a wider range than expected during orbit, and solutions have been found to the issues encountered with cold temperatures. I belive sail angles can be chosen within many degrees. It is not incredibly precise for this demonstration mission, nor does it have to be. We use momentum wheels to change sail orientation. A 90 degree change takes about 4 minutes. Thank you for you questions.

bware: 07/07/2012 10:16 CDT

Thanks for the answers! Best wishes to TPS for a LV and a proved theory of solar propulsion.

Ron D: 07/24/2012 08:09 CDT

Fortunately the Japanese Space Agency, JAXA, have already launched a solar sail and it has proven itself to work. Nonetheless, the more the better and it will be so good to see Lightsail finally get into space. We had high hopes for COSMOS-1, and what a disappointment when it didn't make it! Here's hoping for a better result when Lightsail gets there.

nartco: 10/18/2012 01:43 CDT

Best of luck with Lightsail-1! I'm looking forward to a successful launch. A couple of questions about the spacecraft itself. The overall size with sails deployed is 5.5 meters on a side, right? In flight, will the spacecraft be covered with insulation blankets like NASA spacecraft usually are? If so, what color are those blankets? Thanks, Art

Ron D: 10/22/2012 10:05 CDT

Does anybody know when the Lightsail might be launched?

Rohan: 11/06/2012 03:44 CST

I've been reading that LigtSail-1 mission was planned for 2012 but have not heard anything about it. Could you please update me on the status and proposed launch dates? Thank you. Rohan

Rohan: 11/18/2012 07:24 CST

Thank you for your reply on sail angle accuracy. I am finishing my masters work in solar sail and the design I have for an offset orbit about Sun-Earth L1 requires sail orientation accuracy to within 0.001 degrees. Is that achievable by the current technology being used in LightSail-1? Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you. R

Ron D: 10/03/2013 07:53 CDT

Any word yet on when this might be launched? A year has gone by since last I asked, and no answer has been seen yet. In the meantime I see a lot of other projects are under way. Could it be a case of spreading money too thinly? Of trying to do too much and so not getting things finished?

Daffodil: 12/11/2013 07:10 CST

I too have wondered about the status of LightSail. A year ago we were waiting for a launch vehicle. Assuming an LV becomes available, do we have the money? Even as a piggyback to another (main) mission, launch will not likely be free. If launch is already in the budget, how much $ has been allocated? If it's not already allocated, how much more $ will be needed? Even an estimated range would be nice to know.

David Battson: 01/23/2014 10:41 CST

It's now late January 2014 and still no news of a launch date for our LightSail-1, why is this?

Ron D: 01/27/2014 05:30 CST

Can someone please let us know what is happening with the Lightsail project? We hear about it when money is asked for, but what happens after that? I see Space X are scheduled to launch the Sunjammer solar sail in November 2014, IKAROS has flown to Venus, there was an international symposium on solar sailing held in Glasgow last year, with representatives from many countries including Japan, China and America, but no mention of the Lightsail or the Planetary Society. Has Lightsail been overtaken by events, redundant before it ever got to be launched?

Bruce Betts: 01/28/2014 04:30 CST

I am very sorry that I have missed your previous comments and have not gotten you an answer. We have been working for a long time trying to secure a launch for LightSail. We think we are getting close. When details of a launch get worked out, we will let the world know. LightSail will demonstrate an exciting fusion of solar sailing with a small (5 kg) spacecraft, something that has not been done before, and something that may open up new opportunities for space exploration. We are sorry for the LightSail delays, but it is not due to lack of effort or desire. Thank you for your inquiries and interest, and hopefully we will be able to announce detailed plans in the not too distant future.

Ron Dickens: 01/28/2014 06:33 CST

Thank you, Bruce. It will be really something to see it get airborne, or should that be spaceborne? I can picture a future with cities orbiting in space, around the Earth and around the Sun in the habitable zone. Solar sails might be a wonderful way to carry people and goods between these cities, as well as to launch long distance interstellar trips. If the solar sails are working first, they will be good for all sorts of jobs in space too, from carting raw materials to putting finished products in place. They might let us treat space as another ocean rather than as a remote and expensive place, as it is now. Here's hoping.

Ashleyd: 03/02/2014 12:46 CST

My fingers are crossed for a successful launch in 2014 or early 2015. There are probably many payloads that are lined up to use this technology. One that I am designing is a biological probe for Europa, it comes in around 10Kg (and under $5 million), which is close to the current 5Kg mentioned in Lightsail literature. How is that possible, can you forward the internal design as a pdf or weblink ? Hopefully, Ashleyd.

Richardo Brown: 04/03/2014 01:14 CDT

My Name and Initial of the 2 Associate Degrees (Associate in Science/Biology 2000 & Associate in Arts/General Studies 2010) along with my team family who all have Light Sail II Certificates, however it has not launched yet and today is 4/3/2014 2:12pm

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