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LightSail Update: All Systems Nominal

Posted by Jason Davis

21-05-2015 14:33 CDT

Topics: mission status, LightSail

It's been 24 hours since The Planetary Society’s LightSail spacecraft was deposited into space yesterday afternoon. All systems continue to look healthy. There have been nine ground station passes over Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Georgia Tech, with a total of 55 beacon packets downloaded thus far. These packets contain vital information on the health of the spacecraft. Regular data trends are beginning to develop as more information is downlinked.

Visit our LightSail Mission Control Center

For all the latest LightSail updates, including the spacecraft's current position and ground track, visit our Mission Control Center at

Last night, Cal Poly established two-way communications with LightSail. From there, John Bellardo commanded the spacecraft to turn off its gyroscopes, which measure the effect of solar sail deployment on the vehicle. These gyroscopes were turned on after P-POD deployment, causing a higher-than-average power drain on the spacecraft’s batteries. Telemetry downloaded after the command was sent showed the gyroscopes are now off. Later analysis showed they were “left on” in the spacecraft’s software sequence—a condition that will be changed for the 2016 mission.

A temperature sensor on one of LightSail’s circuit boards has ranged from seven to 26.5 degrees Celsius as the spacecraft zips around the Earth, moving in and out of darkness. On Sunday, LightSail’s cameras will capture their first test images. If all goes well, they won’t see anything except the inside of the spacecraft. As I mentioned yesterday, telemetry shows the solar panel deployment switches have been triggered, which may simply be a result of vibration during the ride to orbit.

Here are some more photos from yesterday. Before launch, The Planetary Society visited the Morrell Operations Center at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where the U.S. Air Force oversees all rocket operations for the Eastern Range.

Mission patch

Navid Baraty / The Planetary Society

Mission patch
Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye pins the LightSail mission patch on the wall inside the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Morrell Operations Center.

Morrell Operations Center

Navid Baraty / The Planetary Society

Morrell Operations Center
Bill Nye with Brig. Gen. Nina Armagno

Navid Baraty / The Planetary Society

Bill Nye with Brig. Gen. Nina Armagno
Bill Nye poses with Brig. Gen. Nina Armagno, Commander of the 45th Space Wing, and other Air Force officials inside the Morrell Operations Center.
See other posts from May 2015


Or read more blog entries about: mission status, LightSail


dougforworldsexplr: 05/21/2015 09:08 CDT

Congratulations to Bill Nye, the Planetary Society and the Light Sail Team and to the championed work of Carl Sagan; I am glad that Light Sail has been successfully launched and that it is dependable sending signal data and that it seems to be working normally. However I haven't yet heard the fate of the other Cube Sat that was to launch on the same Altas rocket with Light Sail 1 and that is supposed to take video documentation of Light Sail 1. Was it successfully deployed as well and will it be able to send picture and video documentation of Light Sail 1 including the unfurling of the sail itself in about 4 weeks if that goes OK? I also look forward to the results of this mission helping towards the Planetary Society more fully demonstrating solar sails deeper in space with solar sail propulsion with Light Sail 2 hopefully next year. Go light sail!

Andromedeus: 05/22/2015 06:29 CDT

I was was lucky and fortunate enough to have spent the day yesterday at Kennedy Space Center and to have experienced space history in the making with the Planetary Society's launch of LightSail and the Planetary Society group. Go Light Sail !!! Go Planetary Society!!!! What a wonderful educational experience!!

Robotguy: 05/26/2015 11:40 CDT

I'm guessing it's not really practical to pick up the telemetry with a $20 SDR, but I'd feel like I missed out if I didn't at least ask. Is it possible without thousands of dollars in antenna/LNA?

Edgar: 05/26/2015 02:43 CDT

@Robotguy: I tried with my equipment, that is certainly medium to high-end amateur stuff (2x19 el cross yagi with computer control). I managed to hear the signal very faintly a couple of days ago but then didn't succeed any more. According to their specs, the signal should be much stronger. Maybe the TLEs are way off and the antenna pointing is off. The TLEs haven't been published by SpaceTrack so far, probably because of the military carrier. Even if you manage to catch the signal you would only see a bunch of code because Planetary Society neither published a decoder nor published the code, as far as I know. Unfortunately this is the case for many cubesat projects. If you want to look into this stuff you might want to go for easier targets first. E.g. the ISS APRS traffic on 145.825 MHz. Or other amateur satellites or weather satellites (e.g. NOAA19) - they are very rewarding.

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