Jason DavisJun 01, 2015

First Look: Partial Camera Test Images from LightSail

Update, June 2: The first image has finished downloading! 

LightSail 1 camera test image, complete
LightSail 1 camera test image, complete This test image of the LightSail 1 spacecraft's aft compartment was captured during the mission by an onboard camera. There are two cameras mounted on LightSail's deployable solar panels, which face inward until sail deployment. The wheel in the center top of the image is part of the sail deployment motor.Image: The Planetary Society

Original story from June 1:

A jumbled JPG never looked so pretty.

This afternoon, LightSail sent home the first part of two test images taken by one of the spacecraft's onboard cameras. The images were compiled from data collected during an 11-minute Cal Poly ground station pass at about 2:00 p.m. PDT (5:00 p.m. EDT, 21:00 UTC).

LightSail partial test image 1
LightSail partial test image 1 Image: The Planetary Society
LightSail partial test image 2
LightSail partial test image 2 Image: The Planetary Society

The pictures look disorganized, cluttered and incomplete because they haven't finished downloading yet. They'll get filled in with each successive ground station pass, similar to the way you might see an image slowly load on a computer. The spacecraft is currently out of range until Tuesday morning, when it will sail past Georgia Tech at 5:10 a.m. EDT.

So, what are we looking at in those LightSail images? It's the inside of the spacecraft, as seen from one of LightSail's inward-facing cameras. I put together this chart to show where the cameras are located, and how they hinge outward before solar sail deployment:

LightSail deployable solar panel and camera montage
LightSail deployable solar panel and camera montage Before sail deployment, LightSail's four deployable solar panels remain closed (top). Two panels have inward-facing cameras. Before solar sail deployment, test images from the cameras will capture the aft spacecraft compartment, which includes the sail deployment motor (middle). Just before sail deployment, the panels hinge outward, positioning the cameras to capture images of the sail unfurling (bottom). Solar panel deployment also clears a path for the sail booms and sails. The solar panels stay closed before deployment to prevent the sail material from billowing out of its storage compartments.Image: Jason Davis / The Planetary Society

It's still too early to make any definitive conclusions from the images, but seeing pieces of the inside of the spacecraft is definitely a good sign—it increases the liklihood that the panels are still closed. For comparison's sake, here's what this same inward-facing view looked like from the ground, under office lighting. The golden spindle at the top of the frame is the underside of LightSail's sail deployment motor. 

LightSail inward-facing image from ground testing
LightSail inward-facing image from ground testing Image: The Planetary Society

As of Monday evening, sail deployment remains on track for Wednesday morning. Any images obtained after that should be far more exciting. The target sail deployment ground pass begins at 11:45 a.m. EDT.

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