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LightSail Completes Testing, Announcement Expected in January

Posted by Jason Davis

12-12-2014 10:19 CST

Topics: mission status, LightSail

The Planetary Society's LightSail spacecraft successfully completed testing to prepare it for a possible test flight. Following a last minute burn wire redesign, the spacecraft went back into vibration testing on Nov. 24. Riki Munakata, LightSail's integration lead for Ecliptic Enterprises Corporation, confirmed that the new configuration had passed its test without a hitch. 

Next, LightSail took a trip through the thermal vacuum chamber at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and emerged unscathed. More milestones were cleared shortly thereafter, as the spacecraft sailed through a Mission Readiness Review on Dec. 3. Jennifer Vaughn, The Planetary Society's Chief Operating Officer, praised the team's efforts in response to emails confirming the successful readiness review. "I know we still have a lot of work ahead, but I hope you all take a minute to soak up this moment of accomplishment," she wrote. Planetary Society board members were also notified and sent messages of encouragement. 

LightSail has now been transferred to Cal Poly. The spacecraft will be integrated with its P-POD (Pico-PolySat Orbital Deployer) in mid-January. An announcement from The Planetary Society on the status of the 2015 test flight is expected around the same time. Following P-POD integration, the spacecraft will be taken to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. for final acceptance testing.

LightSail team

Jennifer Vaughn / The Planetary Society

LightSail team
The LightSail team poses during a meeting at The Planetary Society on Dec. 5. From rear left: Stephanie Wong, integration support, Ecliptic Enterprises Corporation; Riki Munakata, integration lead, Ecliptic; Justin Foley, Cal Poly LightSail team lead; Rex Ridenoure, CEO, Ecliptic; Doug Stetson, project manager, Space Exploration Engineering; Dave Spencer, Prox-1 spacecraft principal investigator, Georgia Tech. From front left: Alex Diaz, integration contractor to Ecliptic, Half-Band Technologies; Barbara Plante, system engineer contractor to Ecliptic, Boreal Space.

On Dec. 5, the LightSail team convened at The Planetary Society's Pasadena, Calif. headquarters to discuss next steps for the second LightSail spacecraft, which is scheduled to embark on a full-fledged solar sailing flight in 2016. The ride to orbit for that mission is SpaceX's new Falcon Heavy rocket. In January, work officially kicks off to prepare the spacecraft—which is currently in storage—for flight. While both LightSails are similar in design, the second model comes equipped with a sun sensor and momentum wheel, which will be used to orient the CubeSat for solar sailing. In order to gain acceleration from solar photons, LightSail must tack like a sailboat, turning face-on as it moves away from the sun and edge-on as it moves toward the sun. These delicate maneuvers require additional software algorithms that must be finalized and tested.

For a look back at LightSail in 2014, don't miss our day-in-the-life test report, a related multimedia post, an onboard camera selfie, and a recap of the 2016 launch date announcement.

LightSail spreads its sails

Justin Foley

LightSail spreads its sails
The Planetary Society's LightSail spacecraft sits on its deployment table at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo following a day-in-the-life test on Sept. 23, 2014.
See other posts from December 2014


Or read more blog entries about: mission status, LightSail


NetworkDr: 01/23/2015 08:33 CST

Great to see the sails unfold! I have questions regarding the effect of NOT having the 15psi (one atmosphere) on the external surface of the compressed Z-folded sail bundle when the Solar cell covers pop open. Does the lack of atmospheric pressure increase the tightness of the compressed Z-folded sail bundle interference fit in its containing cavity? If yes, is the increased friction enough to tear the sails during boom deployment? Alternatively, does the lack of atmospheric pressure cause the compressed Z-folded sail bundle to pop out of its containing cavity upon the covers opening before the booms start to deploy? I very much look forward to your answers!

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