The Planetary Society's LightSail spacecraft is alive and well more than 400 miles above the Earth.
The little cube-sat, roughly the size of a toaster, successfully made it to Earth orbit Wednesday after a nail-biting launch aboard an Atlas V rocket. A group of about 50 Planetary Society staff members and invited guests were on hand at the Kennedy Space Center Apollo/Saturn V Center to celebrate the more than six-years-in-the-making event.
A few hours later, the LightSail-1 began sending back telemetry data, sending up cheers of excitement from those directly involved in the mission.
Early take on data: mostly nominal. Batteries and temps close to expected ranges. Tumble rates X, Y, Z: -7, -0.1, -0.3 deg/sec. #LightSail— Jason Davis (@jasonrdavis) May 20, 2015
The next step for LightSail will be a test of its camera system on Sunday, a less-than-dramatic moment that, should all go well, will initially only capture the inside of the spacecraft. A few weeks later, LightSail will unfurl its 344 square feet of Mylar sails. While the spacecraft won't go high enough to take advantage of any solar wind for propulsion, the test will pave the way for a second spacecraft, the LightSail-2, which in 2016 is expected to become what the late Carl Sagan described as a kind of solar sailboat.
"It can go out from the sun, it can tack inwards to the sun, and because it has a constant acceleration, it can get you around the inner part of the solar system a lot faster and a lot more conveniently than the usual sorts of rocket propulsion," he told Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show" nearly 40 years ago.
And speaking of time, you can expect going forward more exciting missions from the Planetary Society to continue humanity's reach into space. The organization recently launched a Kickstarter to fund its next LightSail, proposing a total cost of $200,000. With several weeks to go, they've already reached nearly $700,000 in donations. Enter Planetary Society CEO and "Science Guy" Bill Nye:
"Folks, for us to succeed with our BHAAG — that stands for big, hairy, audacious (but achievable!) goal — of having solar sail technology become more widely adopted, we need to do more than run our proof-of-concept mission," he recently wrote on the fundraising page. "We have to tell the world about LightSail! That will happen when we make presentations at scientific and engineering conferences (funded in the last stretch goal), but we need to do more. We need to tell the citizens of the world about LightSail. We need to build broad awareness and support for this revolutionary approach to space exploration that combines CubeSats with solar sails."
Want to follow along? Check out LightSail's official mission control page, which has real-time updating.
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