The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 solar sail spacecraft, designed to propel itself using sunlight, has sent its first signals back to Earth after being deployed from its Prox-1 carrier vehicle in space.
Signals were picked up at mission control in Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in California, 7 days after being successfully launched into space by a Space X Falcon Heavy Rocket.
Tests are now set to run for a week before the sail is deployed.
Morse code space signal
Two days ago, LightSail 2 was deployed from Prox-1 in space. The shoebox-sized spacecraft then sent back a morse code signal translating to WM9XPA, the spacecraft's call sign.
“The Georgia Tech Prox-1 spacecraft did its job perfectly, delivering LightSail 2 to the desired orbit for solar sailing,” said LightSail 2 project manager Dave Spencer in a statement.
“Receiving the initial radio signal from LightSail 2 is an important milestone, and the flight team is excited to begin mission operations.”
The Planetary Society team will now spend roughly a week picking up more data from LightSail 2 in order to evaluate the health status of the spacecraft. Once tests are run satisfactorily, mission control will deploy the 32-square meter solar sail.
The team will soon also release information online about when LightSail 2 is passing over your location so that you can attempt to view it with a telescope after sail deployment.
The spacecraft is expected to orbit Earth for roughly a year before burning up into its atmosphere.
Carl Sagan's dream
Last month Bill Nye, Planetary Society's CEO, wrote about the way famous science populariser Carl Sagan inspired the LightSail 2 project:
“Forty years ago, my professor Carl Sagan shared his dream of using solar sail spacecraft to explore the cosmos. The Planetary Society is realizing the dream.”
The solar sail concept is part of a rich history of exploration, spanning hundreds of years, and we're just now seeing the spacecraft go from fiction to reality.