Emily LakdawallaNov 09, 2009

A million dollars says The Planetary Society can make a solar sail fly

The Planetary Society announced today that an anonymous donor has put up one million dollars to help us get a solar sail in flight. That money will kick-start our ambitious new LightSail program, a series of three increasingly large solar sails that mark individual steps in the path toward viable solar sail flight.

LightSail-1 will start with the same basic goal that Cosmos-1 had: to demonstrate that sunlight alone can propel a spacecraft in Earth orbit. But its design is quite different: it will be built of a stack of three cubesats, each only ten centimeters on a side, or one liter in volume. One cubesat will house the electronics, and the other two the ultrathin Mylar sails, four of them, together comprising 32 square meters of sail area. It'll launch to an orbit more than 800 kilometers above Earth, out of reach of the atmosphere.

LightSail-2 will be operated at higher orbit, and LightSail-3 will go to libration point L1, where we hope eventually to see a solar sail permanently placed as a solar weather station, monitoring geomagnetic storms.

Stay tuned, of course, to planetary.org for much more news!

Today's Planetary Radio will feature more information on LightSail -- I will have that posted in a moment.

LightSail 1
LightSail 1 The Planetary Society's LightSail-1 solar sailing spacecraft is scheduled to ride a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to orbit in 2016 with its parent satellite, Prox-1. Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society

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