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The Planetary Report
September Equinox 2019

From Our Member Magazine

Your Impact: Mission Success!

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

The Planetary Society

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.
LightSail 2 During Sail Deployment Sequence (Camera 1)

The Planetary Society

LightSail 2 Proved Controlled Solar Sail Flight in Earth Orbit
Solar sail technology is in its infancy. LightSail 2 is the first controlled solar sail flight in Earth orbit and only the second solar sail tested in space. (JAXA’s IKAROS was the first solar sail flight.) LightSail 2 allows us to control the orientation of the solar sail and use the momentum of light to change the orbit much like how a sailboat uses wind. On 31 July 2019, the mission team confirmed that the spacecraft had raised its orbital high point, or apogee, by about 2 kilometers, meaning LightSail 2 had achieved mission success.
Go LightSail

Stephen Marr

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.
International Crowdfunding Support for LightSail

The Planetary Society

International Crowdfunding Support for LightSail
Crowd watching the launch of LightSail 2

Navid Baraty / The Planetary Society

LightSail 2 Is 100 Percent Crowdfunded
TENS OF THOUSANDS of space enthusiasts from all over the world came together to make the mission possible. LightSail 2 has on board a mini DVD containing a Planetary Society member roster, a list of Kickstarter backers, and names and images from the Society’s Selfies to Space campaign.
LightSail 2 closeout: spacecraft secured

Ecliptic Enterprises Corporation

LightSail 2 Is the First Small Spacecraft Propelled by Sunlight
Pairing solar sail propulsion with small, relatively inexpensive spacecraft could open up solar system exploration to more people. More nations, universities, private companies, and nonprofits could participate in interplanetary missions.
LightSail 2 Deployment Celebration

The Planetary Society

LightSail 2 Deployment Celebration
From mission control at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the LightSail 2 mission team cheers after confirming successful sail deployment.

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.

Congratulations to the Planetary Society! LightSail 2 Is Officially Soaring on Sunlight! @exploreplanets

— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) August 3, 2019

Congrats to the single boat #LightSail2 space regatta by the @exploreplanets! Imagine the missions we at NASA Science could do with solar sail technology - a space weather sentinel, a solar polar mission, etc. #imagine #explore

— Thomas Zurbuchen (@Dr_ThomasZ) July 24, 2019

I know my dad would be thrilled about #lightsail2

— Sasha Sagan (@SashaSagan) July 26, 2019

Science Advocacy Successes

2019 Planetary Society Day of Action

Antonio Peronance/The Planetary Society

2019 Planetary Society Day of Action

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?

The Planetary Society

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

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)

Honeybee Robotics

PlanetVac (Xodiac configuration)

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!

LightSail 2 Mission Success

The Planetary Report • September Equinox 2019
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Read more: citizen science, Planetary Society Projects, mission status, PlanetVac, Planetary Society Political Advocacy, LightSail, The Planetary Report

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