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Jason DavisJune 12, 2015

In Pictures: LightSail’s Final Days in Space

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.

Read more: Planetary Society Projects, mission status, LightSail

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Jason Davis

Journalist and Digital Editor for The Planetary Society
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