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Jason DavisJanuary 29, 2016

First Look: Newest LightSail Spacecraft Unfurls Solar Sails

The Planetary Society's newest LightSail spacecraft successfully deployed its solar sails Thursday, wrapping up an initial round of system-level tests to prepare the CubeSat for flight.

On Thursday, January 28, a team of engineers at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo commanded the spacecraft to unfurl its 32-square-meter sails for the first time since the project was resurrected in 2014. The sails are pushed out of small storage cavities by four, tape measure-like booms that wind around a central motor spindle. Deployment tests take place on a low-friction table set up in a large engineering bay. 

The sail deployment marks the end of the first round of system-level tests the spacecraft must complete prior to integration and delivery for launch. Last week, the team conducted mission simulations using the spacecraft's new flight software. 

The test results will be carefully reviewed in preparation for a full day-in-the-life test in early March, during which another sail deployment will be conducted. LightSail is scheduled to be delivered to Georgia Tech for integration into the Prox-1 spacecraft later that month. The duo are manifested for a SpaceX Falcon Heavy flight in September 2016, pending launch vehicle readiness.

LightSail sail deployment test

Justin Foley / Cal Poly / The Planetary Society

LightSail sail deployment test
Riki Munakata of Ecliptic Enterprises Corporation prepares The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 spacecraft for a sail deployment test at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on January 28, 2016.
LightSail sail deployment test

Justin Foley / Cal Poly / The Planetary Society

LightSail sail deployment test
The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 spacecraft sits ready for a sail deployment test at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on January 28, 2016.
LightSail sail deployment test

Justin Foley / Cal Poly / The Planetary Society

LightSail sail deployment test
Riki Munakata of Ecliptic Enterprises Corporation prepares The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 spacecraft for a sail deployment test at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on January 28, 2016.
LightSail sail deployment test

Justin Foley / Cal Poly / The Planetary Society

LightSail sail deployment test
The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 spacecraft completed a solar sail deployment test at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on January 28, 2016.
LightSail 2 with solar sails deployed

Justin Foley / Cal Poly / The Planetary Society

LightSail 2 with solar sails deployed
The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 spacecraft sits on its deployment table following a successful solar sail deployment test at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on January 28, 2016.

Read more: pretty pictures, Planetary Society Projects, LightSail

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Jason Davis

Journalist and Digital Editor for The Planetary Society
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