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In Pictures: LightSail’s Final Days in Space

Posted By Jason Davis

12-06-2015 15:30 CDT

Topics: Planetary Society Projects, mission status, LightSail

LightSail’s brief stay in orbit is almost over. 

Since unfurling its solar sails June 7, the spacecraft has dipped steadily toward Earth as it trawls through the upper atmosphere. It’s now in a 330 by 523-kilometer orbit—down from a high point of about 700 kilometers. Predictions for reentry continue to converge on Sunday, June 14. It’s likely that come Monday morning, LightSail will be no more. 

After completing the download of a sails-out photograph on Tuesday, the team started working to get an image from the spacecraft’s opposite-side camera. LightSail sent home what was supposed to be a picture, but the file did not compile into a viewable image.

Preparations began to capture a fresh set of images. Before that happened, however, the radio system began transmitting a continuous signal that doesn’t contain any usable data. LightSail is turned on and communicating, but it’s talking in one, unending sentence, and we can’t get a word in edgewise.

The engineering team has been sending the spacecraft reboot commands, with no success thus far. Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, the radio manufacturer, reports they have never seen this behavior. Neither has Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, despite their lengthy experience with CubeSats over the years. Troubleshooting and ground testing to recreate the problem continues.

Radio and astronomy observers around the world have been following LightSail closely. With just a couple days left before the mission ends, now seems like a good time to showcase a few photos and videos we’ve received of LightSail in Earth orbit. Most of these have been verified by an additional source to ensure accuracy.

Andriy Makeyev

LightSail laser ranging attempt, June 7 (CubeSat form)
This video, captured by Andriy Makeyev in Crimea, shows LightSail 1 crossing the sky on June 7, 2015 at 00:20:32 UTC prior to solar sail deployment. The bright beam was used for laser ranging (no echoes were returned from LightSail). Details: EVS VNC-753-H2 CCD camera, 12cm refractor (FOV is 36'x27'). SLR station Katzively-1893, 44.3932°N, 33.9701°E, 68.7 m.
LightSail 1 from the Netherlands, June 8

Cees Bassa

LightSail 1 from the Netherlands, June 8
This post-sail deployment LightSail 1 flyover was captured by Cees Bassa in the Netherlands on June 8 at 01:45:20 UTC.
LightSail from Spain, June 8, 3:16 UTC

Bill Cooke / NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

LightSail from Spain, June 8, 3:16 UTC
This four-minute exposure of LightSail was captured June 8, 2015, starting 3:16:52 UTC from a telescope located at the AstroCamp Observatory near Nerpio, Spain. LightSail is the almost vertical line down the left side of the image, which has a 1.2 x 1.9 degree field of view (North is at top). The other satellite track is Kosmos 2360, a Tselina electronic signals intelligence satellite launched by Russia on July 28, 1998. Equipment: iTelescope 6” (150 mm) Takahashi TOA-150 refractor equipped with a SBIG STL-11000M CCD. The telescope was pointed at the maximum height of the pass (321.3 degree azimuth, 45.6 degree elevation. Observer credit: Bill Cooke, Meteoroid Environments Office, EV44, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
LightSail from Santa Cruz, June 9, 10:52 UTC

Kirk Bender

LightSail from Santa Cruz, June 9, 10:52 UTC
This image of LightSail was captured from Santa Cruz, California on June 9 at 3:52 a.m. PDT (10:52 UTC). The photo was analyzed by two additional amateur trackers for verification. Photo details: f/1.4, exposure 20 seconds, ISO 800, 30mm.
LightSail 1 from the Netherlands, June 11

Cees Bassa

LightSail 1 from the Netherlands, June 11
This post-sail deployment LightSail 1 flyover was captured by Cees Bassa in the Netherlands on June 11 at 0:35:20 UTC.
 
See other posts from June 2015

 

Read more blog entries about: Planetary Society Projects, mission status, LightSail

Comments:

sepiae: 06/13/2015 02:00 CDT

'It’s likely that come Monday morning, LightSail will be no more (...) it’s talking in one, unending sentence, and we can’t get a word in edgewise.' Oh my Zarquod, it's panicking...! The whole mission has been a delight to follow, started every day with looking at the updates. Thanks everyone.

aspaceman: 06/13/2015 09:10 CDT

every word sepiae said. usually checked what lightsail was saying before getting out of bed each morning. excited to hear what what we have learned during this mission and how it will affect the next mission. anddd very excited for this next mission. thanks everyone!

dizyspelling: 06/13/2015 09:39 CDT

This is most exciting. Since reading Arthur C. Clark's "Wind from the Sun" back in about 1964, I've been waiting for this to really happen! Thanks.

Westcoaster: 06/13/2015 02:59 CDT

Saw LightSail over Vancouver last night about 3 am- it was definitely doing a slow tumble. Maybe every 20 seconds.

Messy: 06/14/2015 09:36 CDT

While the "usual suspects" are stumbling their way from bed to the bathroom to do the usual Sunday morning ambulations before heading to the kitchen for badly needed coffee/tea/breckie-stuff, it falls to me to announce that the Phillae lander has WOKEN UP!!!! http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2015/0614/Philae-wakes-up!-Europe-s-plucky-comet-lander-phones-home They will have a large blog this afternoon or tomorrow.

Bob Ware: 06/14/2015 06:46 CDT

Congratulations to all on LightSails' Flight Test of the test bed! This was a great mission and apparently much was learned. Lets make great use of this mission and get it into mission 2.

Julia: 06/15/2015 11:06 CDT

Bye Bye little Lightsail. You broke the "glass ceiling" and now others will follow. You will not be forgotten. Well done to all who made this happen. Now...on to the next.....

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