Quantcast
Business

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

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Climate
Pexels

Cosmos Offers Clues to the Fate of Humans on Earth

By Marlene Cimons

Astrophysicist Adam Frank sees climate change through a cosmic lens. He believes our present civilization isn't the first to burn up its resources—and won't be the last. Moreover, he thinks it's possible the same burnout fate already might have befallen alien worlds. That's why he says the current conversation about climate change is all wrong. "We shouldn't be talking about saving the planet, because the Earth will go on without us," he said. "We should be talking about saving ourselves."

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Chicago skyline on April 20, 2017. Chris Favero / CC BY-SA 2.0

Big Cities, Bright Lights: Ranking the Worst Light Pollution on Earth

By Dipika Kadaba

The amount of artificial lighting is steadily increasing every year around the planet. It's a cause for celebration in remote villages in Africa and the Indian sub-continent that recently gained access to electricity for the first time, but it is also harming the health and well-being of residents of megacities elsewhere that continue to get bigger and brighter every year.

Health impacts of this artificial illumination after daylight hours range from depression to cancer, including a range of sleep disorders.

Keep reading... Show less
Business
velkr0 / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Texas Supreme Court Rules Cities Cannot Ban Plastic Bags

The Texas Supreme Court struck down the city of Laredo's plastic bag ban—a decision that will likely overturn similar bans in about a dozen other cities, including Austin, Fort Stockton and Port Aransas.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Ryan Zinke visits Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota on May 25. Sherman Hogue / U.S. Dept. of the Interior

Report: Trump Admin. Suppressing Media Access of Government Scientists

A new Trump administration protocol requires U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists to run interview requests with the Department of the Interior, its parent agency, before speaking to journalists, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The move is a departure from past media practices that allowed government scientists to quickly respond to journalists' inquiries, according to unnamed USGS employees interviewed by the Times.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Icebergs calving from an ice shelf in West Antarctica. NASA / GSFC / Jefferson Beck / CC BY-SA 2.0

Good News From Antarctica: Rising Bedrock Could Save Vulnerable Ice Sheet

After last week's disturbing news that ice melt in Antarctica has tripled in the last five years, another study published Thursday offers some surprising good news for the South Pole and its vulnerable West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).

The study, published in Science by an international research team, found that the bedrock below the WAIS is rising, a process known as "uplift," at record rates as melting ice removes weight, potentially stabilizing the ice sheet that scientists feared would be lost to climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
GMO
Soybeans with cupped leaves, a symptom of dicamba injury. University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Dicamba Damage Roars Back for Third Season in a Row

University weed scientists have reported roughly 383,000 acres of soybean injured by a weedkiller called dicamba so far in 2018, according to University of Missouri plant sciences professor, Kevin Bradley.

Dicamba destroys mostly everything in its path except the crops that are genetically engineered (GE) to resist it. The drift-prone chemical can be picked up by the wind and land on neighboring non-target fields. Plants exposed to the chemical are left wrinkled, cupped or stunted in growth.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Food
Memphis Meats

FDA Takes First Steps to Regulating Lab-Grown Meat

By Dan Nosowitz

Lab-grown meat—also known as cultured meat or in vitro meat—has long been enticing for its potential environmental, social and economic benefits.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Scott Pruitt speaking at meeting at the USDA headquarters in Washington, DC, on Jan. 17. Lance Cheung / USDA

Breaking: Sierra Club Demands Pruitt’s Emails After Only 1 Disclosed by EPA

As part of ongoing litigation, the Sierra Club has demanded that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) search Scott Pruitt's personal email accounts for work-related emails, or certify clearly and definitively that the administrator has never used personal email for work purposes. The demand comes on the heels of a successfully litigated Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for all of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's email and other communications with all persons and parties outside the executive branch. These facts were first reported in Politico early this morning.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!