LightSail 2: Solar Sailing Mission Officially Announced a Success

The solar sail has successfully used photons from the Sun to raise its orbit around the Earth.
Chris Young
LightSail 2 during sail deploymentThe Planetary Society

"Years of computer simulations. Countless ground tests. They've all led up to now."

That's how the Planetary Society let the world know that their LightSail 2 solar sailing mission has been officially announced a success.


Light flight

LightSail 2, the spacecraft the Planetary Society sent up to space approximately a month ago recently unfurled a light-catching sail and has been "raising its orbit solely on the power of sunlight."

"We're thrilled to announce mission success," LightSail program manager Bruce Betts said in a statement. "Our criteria was to demonstrate controlled solar sailing in a CubeSat by changing the spacecraft’s orbit using only the light pressure of the Sun, something that’s never been done before."

Bill Nye, of 'the science guy' fame and Planetary Society CEO, also announced the mission's success in a short video:

The following chart shows LightSail 2's orbit apogee and perigee since launch, demonstrating that it raised its orbit by 2 kilometers using the sail.

LightSail 2: Solar Sailing Mission Officially Announced a Success
From 26 July to 30 July, LightSail 2 raised its orbital high point, or apogee, by about 2 kilometers. Source: The Planetary Society

Though the spacecraft launched a month ago, the solar sail itself wasn't deployed until 23 July. Two images were released shortly after deployment and the Planetary Society has now unveiled a set of thumbnails detailing the whole process.

LightSail 2: Solar Sailing Mission Officially Announced a Success
Source: The Planetary Society

A crowdfunded space venture

In the Planetary Society's statement, the space company's COO, Jennifer Vaughn said the following:

"LightSail 2 proves the power of public support. This moment could mark a paradigm shift that opens up space exploration to more players. It amazes me that 50,000 people came together to fly a solar sail. Imagine if that number became 500,000 or 5 million. It’s a thrilling concept."

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LightSail 2: Solar Sailing Mission Officially Announced a Success
An artist rendering of the deployed solar sail. Source: Josh Spradling/The Planetary Society

Approximately 50,000 Planetary Society members and backers from more than 100 countries, donated towards the LightSail 2 mission which cost $7million and took 10 years to achieve. It was also backed by foundations and corporate partners.

This mission brings to life Carl Sagan's original dream concept of a solar sail — the idea has been decades in the making.

LightSail 2 will be monitored and researched for roughly a month by mission control before deorbiting, Earth's drag overpowering the force of the solar sail. It will then re-enter Earth's atmosphere in approximately a year's time.