The Planetary Report

September Equinox 2019

From Our Member Magazine

Your Impact: September Equinox 2019

LightSail 2 Demonstrates Flight by Light

What a journey! What a success! Your LightSail 2 spacecraft is in space, controlling its orbit solely on the power of sunlight.

Along with a few hundred fellow members, I was at the night launch of LightSail 2 on 25 June 2019. A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket took us to orbit. It was spectacular.

One week later, our CubeSat deployed and began its adventure in space. Three weeks after that, we were sailing! As I write, LightSail 2 is building orbital altitude by hundreds of meters per day.

LightSail 2 is part of our legacy and a dream come true. Back in the 1970s, as comet 1P/Halley was on its way toward the Sun, our founders Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman advocated for a solar sail mission to catch up with it. Carl showed the idea to Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. It was an inspiring concept, but it never got off the drawing board.

Then, in 1999, The Planetary Society, partnering with Russian space companies and Ann Druyan’s Cosmos Studios, began work on the Cosmos 1 solar sail. Cosmos 1 could have been the first demonstration of solar sailing, but the rocket failed, and the spacecraft ended up in the sea.

We might have given up on the dream were it not for all of you—our members. You responded with a resounding “try again,” and now we’re sailing in space. Thanks to you, LightSail 2 is flying and proving the concept of flight by light. As a member, you appreciate how hard it is to design, build, test, retest, and finally fly a space mission. For the first time in history, we demonstrated fast tacking, twice in every 100-minute orbit, near Earth—with a spacecraft propelled by sunlight. LightSail 2 is extraordinary—and, we hope, precedent setting. Your passion and commitment got us here. Together, we have accomplished something wonderful. Sail on!

For more about LightSail, including videos, detailed stories, more images, and how to track LightSail 2, go to

LightSail 2 Spreads its Wings and Begins to Fly
LightSail 2 Spreads its Wings and Begins to Fly On 23 July 2019, flight controllers at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California commanded LightSail 2 to deploy its 32-square-meter sail. These images capture the deployment sequence as seen from one of the spacecraft’s 185-degree fisheye cameras. The view of Earth shows Baja California and part of Mexico. LightSail 2 is expected to continue to send back images as it orbits Earth until it reenters the atmosphere in approximately 1 year.Image: The Planetary Society
LightSail 2 During Sail Deployment Sequence (Camera 1)
LightSail 2 Proved Controlled Solar Sail Flight in Earth Orbit This image was taken during the LightSail 2 sail deployment sequence on 23 July 2019 at 11:49 PDT (18:49 UTC). The sail is almost fully deployed here and appears warped near the edges due to the spacecraft's 185-degree fisheye camera lens. The image has been color corrected and some of the distortion has been removed. The Sun is visible at center, and pieces of spectraline, which were used to hold LightSail 2's solar panels closed, can be seen at 5 o'clock and 7 o'clock.Image: The Planetary Society
Go LightSail
Go LightSail On 25 June 2019, LightSail 2 launched to space aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. Space enthusiast Stephen Marr captured the launch along with this special light-painted message.Image: Stephen Marr
International Crowdfunding Support for LightSail
International Crowdfunding Support for LightSail Image: The Planetary Society
Crowd watching the launch of LightSail 2
LightSail 2 Is 100 Percent Crowdfunded The crowd watched in awe as LightSail 2 launched atop the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket during the STP-2 mission on 25 June 2019.Image: Navid Baraty / The Planetary Society
LightSail 2 closeout: spacecraft secured
LightSail 2 Is the First Small Spacecraft Propelled by Sunlight Image: Ecliptic Enterprises Corporation
LightSail 2 Deployment Celebration
LightSail 2 Deployment Celebration From mission control at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the LightSail 2 mission team cheers after confirming successful sail deployment.Image: The Planetary Society

LightSail 2 Captured the World’s Attention

LightSail 2 Captured the World’s Attention
LightSail 2 Captured the World’s Attention Media organizations from around the world reported on the LightSail 2 mission. Pictured here are articles from Habr/Russia, “Noticas”/Brazil, Infobae/Argentina, Sohu/China, New York Times, Repubblica/Italy, Hurriyet/Turkey, and Heise/Germany.

Science Advocacy Successes

2019 Planetary Society Day of Action
2019 Planetary Society Day of Action Image: Antonio Peronance/The Planetary Society

Planetary Society members impact legislative and budgetary priorities in the U.S. Congress. Thanks to your advocacy efforts, The Planetary Society secured our top legislative priorities in the NASA fiscal year 2020 budget passed by the House of Representatives. The legislation rejected the White House’s proposed cancellations of the Wide-Field Infrared Space Telescope (WFIRST), Earth Science missions; and NASA’s education program; supported the start of a Mars sample return mission, and continued development of the asteroid-hunting NEOCam spacecraft. Congress also bumped NASA’s top line by 4 percent to $22.3 billion. Chief Advocate Casey Dreier organized this advocacy effort with Chief of Washington Operations Brendan Curry. The thousands of Society members who contacted their congressional representatives in support of these issues led us to success.

Notably absent from the House’s bill was funding for Project Artemis, the new effort to land humans on the Moon by 2024. Action now shifts to the Senate, which had yet to release its version of NASA’s budget by the time this issue went to press. Up-to-date information is available at

How Much Did Apollo Cost?

How Much Did Apollo Cost?
How Much Did Apollo Cost? Explore the cost of Apollo with beautiful charts and year-by-year and program-by-program cost breakdowns at The Planetary Society

Your membership supported new independent financial analysis that revealed that Project Apollo cost $264 billion in 2019 dollars. The total increases to $288 billion when related efforts such as robotic lunar probes and Project Gemini are included. This analysis provides critical historical context for evaluating modern political commitments to human exploration efforts.

The Planetary Society released the raw data behind this project to encourage open discussion and further analysis. Explore the cost of Apollo with beautiful charts and year-by-year and program-by-program cost breakdowns at

A Moon Shot for PlanetVac

PlanetVac (Xodiac configuration)
PlanetVac (Xodiac configuration) Image: Honeybee Robotics

PlanetVac, a Planetary Society member-funded technology that simplifies the process of collecting samples from other worlds, has been chosen for a possible Moon flight! NASA selected PlanetVac and 11 other science and technology payloads to join its Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, which will send a series of robotic spacecraft to the Moon. In 2021 and 2022, 3 commercially built spacecraft are scheduled to land on the Moon. You helped fund 2 tests of PlanetVac in 2013 and 2018 in partnership with Honeybee Robotics, which builds the device. You saw the promise of PlanetVac and supported its development. Thank you!

Planetary Society members like you make this work possible. Thank you!

Let’s Go Beyond The Horizon

Every success in space exploration is the result of the community of space enthusiasts, like you, who believe it is important. You can help usher in the next great era of space exploration with your gift today.

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The Planetary Report • September Equinox

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