Flight by light for CubeSats
LightSail-1 has a launch date! The Planetary Society's solar sailing spacecraft is scheduled to launch aboard the SpaceX Falcon Heavy in April 2016.
CubeSats are tiny, low-cost satellites that have opened up new avenues of space research for universities and small organizations.
In order for CubeSat applications to reach the next level, the miniature satellites need a reliable form of propulsion for orbital maneuvers and trips beyond our planet. This is where solar sailing—transferring the momentum of photons to a large reflective sail—comes in. The technology was successfully used by Japan’s IKAROS mission in 2010, and NASA’s NanoSail-D test-deployed a CubeSat solar sail in Earth orbit later that year.
In 2016, The Planetary Society’s LightSail program will take the technology a step further. LightSail-1 will attempt to demonstrate controlled solar sailing—flight by light—for CubeSats.
The Planetary Society's LightSail-A spacecraft is less than three weeks away from an expected go/no-go decision on whether the CubeSat will be launched into space for a shakedown cruise next year.
LightSail's random vibration test, meant to simulate the stress of an Atlas V rocket launch, shook loose new problems that the team will have to address.
The Planetary Society's LightSail-A spacecraft is close to completing a final series of tests that pave the way for a possible 2015 test flight. But as deadlines loom, a new problem has sent the team scrambling to make a quick repair.