Pasadena-based Planetary Society Celebrates Its Spacecraft's Second Month of Solar Sailing

Published : Monday, September 30, 2019 | 5:38 AM

The Planetary Society in Pasadena recently marked the second month in orbit of their LightSail 2 solar-photon powered spacecraft by patiently waiting for the spacecraft to pass far overhead of the Society’s headquarters, and then listening in exhilaration as it squawked a few lines of Morse code.

Bill Nye, Planetary Society CEO, and other staff members went outside as they anticipated the LightSail 2 flyover, with LightSail 2 testing and operations engineer Justin Foley, who is also a member of the Planetary Society, bringing out his amateur radio equipment for the event.

When LightSail2 was as its closest pass, Foley’s radio antenna picked up LightSail 2′s Morse code signal and piped it through laptop speakers for everyone to hear.

The spacecraft regularly transmits health and status data to its ground stations on Earth – data that you can see displayed in real time on the mission’s online dashboard. Every 45 seconds, LightSail 2 also squawks Morse code of its radio call sign, WM9XPA, allowing the mission control team at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to identify its signal after it deployed from its Prox-1 carrier spacecraft and follow its track as it started Earth orbit.

The LightSail 2 mission is spearheaded by SpaceX, Bill Nye and the Planetary Society and is the first crowd-funded spacecraft project ever to launch.

After launching on board a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket on June 24, the spacecraft unfurled its reflective sail on July 23. LightSail2 now spends most of its time turning towards the Sun.

The craft will use sunlight – more specifically, solar photons – to roam the cosmos. The abundance of solar radiation pressure means that the craft will never run out of fuel, raising the possibility that future spacecraft could fly out between planets in the solar system without spending tops of expensive fuel.

To see the spacecraft’s progress in real time, visit www.planetary.org/explore/projects/lightsail-solar-sailing/lightsail-mission-control.html.

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