Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Bill Nye's Solar Sail Could Revolutionize Space Travel

Science
Bill Nye's Solar Sail Could Revolutionize Space Travel

The Planetary Society's solar sail is another step closer to spending its days in the sun. The world's largest space-interest nonprofit has unveiled the LightSail-2, the successor to the original LightSail CubeSat (or cube satellite used for space research) that successfully deployed its solar sails in space eight months ago.

The LightSail's mylar solar sails span 32-square-meters and are designed to capture sunlight and convert its pressure to propel the spacecraft forward. Photo credit: Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society

In June 2015, the Planetary Society proved that flight by light could be possible when it unfurled a solar sail in low-Earth orbit, paving the way for a full-fledged solar sail flight in 2016.

Once this technology is perfected, the LightSail could revolutionize and significantly lower the costs of space travel. Instead of rocket fuel, future spacecraft can be propelled by a sail that captures and converts the sun's photons into pressure that propels the spacecraft forward, thus making it an "inexpensive, inexhaustible means of propulsion," as the project's successful Kickstarter campaign pointed out.

As Vox wrote, what makes this project even more interesting is that it's not funded by NASA or a private enterprise. If successful, the LightSail project will essentially democratize space travel, as it's being built by the citizen-funded Planetary Society and the 23,331 backers who collectively pledged $1,241,615 to bring this crowd-funded project to life.

“Our mission at the Planetary Society is to advance space science and exploration. That’s what we do. That’s the elevator speech,” Bill Nye, CEO of the Planetary Society, told Motherboard. “Empower the world’s citizens to advance space science and exploration to know the cosmos and our place within it.”

The latest mission is expected to launch sometime this Fall. The LightSail-2 will travel on Georgia Tech’s Prox-1 satellite on Elon Musk's SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

Read page 1

Here's what will happen to the LightSail once it's in orbit, as Gizmodo reported:

The new light sail features four triangular sails, made of mylar, which combine to form a rectangular-shaped surface. Once the [three unit] cubesat reaches an orbital altitude of 500 miles (800 km), the sails will deploy, extending across a total area measuring 32 square meters. The main test goal will be to assess whether the solar sails are a viable form of spacecraft propulsion.

This animation shows how the LightSail-2 will deploy from the Prox-1 satellite:

The idea of solar sailing came decades ago from Planetary Society founders Louis Friedman, Bruce Murray and Carl Sagan, who even stopped by Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show to explain the technology.

“[It] travels on the radiation and particles that come out of the sun, the wind from the sun," Sagan said. "Because it has a constant acceleration, it can get you around the inner part of the solar system a lot faster ... than the usual sorts of rocket propulsion.”

Nye told Motherboard that besides interstellar space travel, the solar sail can be used in various other ways, from monitoring solar weather to helping a satellite de-orbit:

You’re required to have your satellite deorbit in 25 years. That’s an international rule being informally embraced, and people are working on treaties to formalize it. Getting a spacecraft to come down when you want it takes either fuel or dumb luck. With a sail, you can create all this drag. For example, where the ISS is, there are still a few air molecules. So when you deploy a sail, the thing comes down a thousand times faster than otherwise. Satellite manufacturers could very reasonably meet the requirements by including a little drag sail.

This video shows a test deployment of the LightSail 2's sails at California Polytechnic State University in January:

The Planetary Society's digital editor Jason Davis explains what happened in the video:

Unsurprisingly, [the] deployment tests revealed minor issues that engineers...have spent the past few weeks working to resolve. The deployment motor hesitated several times, not unlike the way it did during LightSail 1 testing. There was a glitch with the spacecraft’s onboard cameras, which capture staggered images during the sail deployment sequence. And additional refinements are still being applied to the spacecraft’s communications and attitude control systems.

A second round of system testing is planned at Cal Poly. This will pave the way for a full, day-in-the-life test as soon as March, when the spacecraft demonstrates its core mission functions one final time on the ground.

You can read the history of the LightSail here and learn more about the project in this video below:

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

10 Mesmerizing Photos of Earth Taken From Space

25 Scientific Facts That Will Blow Your Mind

Scientists Explore Toxic Ice Caves to Learn About Potential Alien Life on Other Planets

Neil deGrasse Tyson Schools Rapper B.o.B. Who Believes the Earth Is Flat

Florida Wildlife Federation / NBC2News / YouTube

In a dramatic rescue captured on camera, a Florida man ran into a pond and pried open an alligator's mouth in order to rescue his beloved puppy, all without dropping his cigar.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Imagesines / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.

When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."

Read More Show Less

Trending

Fossil fuel companies received $110 billion in direct and indirect financial assistance during the coronavirus pandemic, including up to $15.2 billion in direct federal relief. Andrew Hart /

By Bret Wilkins

In a year in which the United States has already suffered 16 climate-driven extreme weather events causing more than $1 billion in economic damages, and as millions of American workers face loss of essential unemployment benefits due to congressional inaction, a report published Monday reveals the Trump administration has given fossil fuel companies as much as $15.2 billion in direct relief — and tens of billions more indirectly — through federal COVID-19 recovery programs since March.

Read More Show Less
Flint corn is an example of pre-contact food. Elenathewise / Getty Images

By Ashia Aubourg

As Thanksgiving approaches, some Indigenous organizations and activists caution against perpetuating further injustices towards Native communities. Indigenous activist Mariah Gladstone, for example, encourages eaters to celebrate the harvest time in ways that do not involve stereotypes and pilgrim stories.

Read More Show Less

By Alex Middleton

Losing weight and reducing fat is a hard battle to fight. Thankfully, there are fat burner supplements that help you gain your target body and goal. However, how would you know which supplement is right for you?

Read More Show Less