LightSail 2 has started solar sail tests. The experimental satellite starts its first journey

The idea of ​​using solar radiation as a source of propulsion in space is a concept discussed by scientists and engineers for quite a long time. Only now, however, we test it in practice.

In practice, i.e. as the drive of the experimental satellite LightSail 2 , designed by Planetary Society. The number is a bit misleading because it is the third Light Sail prototype equipped with solar sail. Three times as much as they say.

Lightsail 2 arrived in orbit on June 25, aboard the Falcon Heavy rocket, along with other scientific missions. It took a month for the Planetary Society engineers to think that this was the right moment to start the main part of the experiment.

Lightsail 2 spread the sail

Yesterday, late in the evening, the sail made of 4.5 micrometres (sic!) Material was slowly developed into a total area of ​​32 square meters. Such a surface is to provide the satellite's propulsion by catching the speeding photons emitted by our Sun. Particles of light are reflected from the material, thus giving the momentum to the experimental satellite. The principle of operation is very similar to swimming a sailboat.

On the ground, however, the energy emitted by the reflecting photons is so small that the solar sails here do not make any sense at all. In a vacuum-filled space, things look a bit different. Theoretically, a vessel powered by a sail of this kind can achieve higher velocity in a vacuum than rocket-propelled vessels. The problem is that it would take all eternity. However, scientists and engineers from the Planetary Society do not count on such a spectacular effect.

It is simply about reaching the acceptable speed with which our solar system (or even further) could move in the future with light satellites (communication, research, etc.). In the case of this type of device, huge acceleration is basically not important. Much more important is the fact that ships and satellites equipped with solar sails would not need any fuel to fly.

The potential of a sun sail is huge 252Fexploreplanets%%% 252Fstatus 252F1153746079134842880% 26widget% 3DTweet

If we needed a bit more acceleration, after spreading the sail in such a satellite, you can always shoot it with a laser beam with high power (from lasers located on Earth) and in this way give it a kick on the momentum. This idea is taken into account by Breaktrough Initiatives - a venture of the Russian billionaire, Yuri Milner, who wants to join the pages of history as a generous patron of science. His project called Breaktrough Starshot assumes sending a fleet of miniature ship-probes, propelled by solar sails towards Alpha Centauri.

Before anyone can manage the Milner plan, Light Sail 2 has to prove that using the energy generated by the photons reflecting off the sail, you can lift the orbit of a satellite whose size would allow for commercial use. If this happens, the invention should quickly find its way to commercial applications. Compared to traditional drives, it is simply much cheaper. All that remains is the question of what all the trash are flying in our orbit. The material with a thickness of 4.5 micrometres is not likely to meet with anything ... other than light.

LightSail 2 has started solar sail tests. The experimental satellite starts its first journey


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