"The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 spacecraft is almost ready to go solar sailing."
In the Planetary Society's most recent update on the LightSail 2 mission, the team revealed that the shoebox-sized spacecraft's solar sail is on course to be deployed on Tuesday, June 23.
This news was revealed alongside yet another stunning image of Earth beamed down to mission control by LightSail 2.
Our 'pale blue dot' from space
Planetary Society's CEO Bill Nye has stated that the LightSail mission is trying to make Carl Sagan's dream of a functioning solar sail — one that converts photons from sun rays into energy that can propel a spacecraft or satellite — come true.
In 1990, Sagan famously convinced the Voyager 1 mission team to turn its cameras towards Earth as it reached the outer limits of our solar system.
LightSail 2's images of Earth might come from a lot closer to home, but they still provide an awe-inspiring perspective — and it's nice to see a Sagan-inspired enterprise not think twice about beaming images back to Earth. The above Earth pic was taken on July 18.
It is one of a series of images that have been beamed down as the LightSail 2 mission team prepares for the deployment of its solar sails.
Tropical storm formations, such as Storm Barry in the above pic, can be seen in the beautifully detailed images released by the Planetary Society.
In the same image (above), the Moon can actually be spotted, as a pale white dot, on the center-right edge of the picture.
Upcoming sail deployment attempt
In their most recent blog update, the Planetary Society said the spacecraft has been cleared for a deployment attempt:
"Mission officials today cleared the spacecraft for a possible sail deployment attempt on Tuesday, 23 July 2019, during a ground station pass that starts at roughly 11:22 PDT (18:22 UTC). A backup pass is available the following orbit starting at 13:07 PDT (20:07 UTC). These times may change slightly as new orbit predictions become available."
Mission control has pushed back their deployment schedule a few times already, as they no doubt want to make sure they reach this crucial moment in their mission at the best time possible.
However, this looks like it might be the real deal. The Planetary Society has a live page up — including an embedded live-stream video feed — that will allow space enthusiasts to follow the solar sail deployment and see Carl Sagan's dreams finally come true in realtime.
On Tuesday, LightSail 2 will fly within range of its ground station, allowing flight controllers to assess the spacecraft’s status one final time before solar sail deployment.
The spacecraft is set to orbit Earth for approximately a year before burning up into the atmosphere.