Pasadena-Based Planetary Society's LightSail 2 Waits for Wind After Postponed Launch

Published : Wednesday, June 12, 2019 | 4:44 AM

LightSail 2 isn’t quite ready to leave port.

Pasadena-based The Planetary Society has updated its travel recommendations for participants intending to watch the launch of LightSail 2 at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

“I’ve shared the inherent risk that our launch date might slip,” said Richard Chute, the Society’s chief development officer, in an email to the sojourners. “As if to prove my point, we have recently learned that the date has, indeed, slipped.”

Chute said the launch date would be no earlier than June 24, with the earlier set launch “window” of 11:30 p.m.

LightSail is a $7 million, citizen-funded project of The Planetary Society designed specifically to test solar sailing technology for CubeSats. These are small, standardized satellites that hitch rides with rockets into space with heavier payloads.

And we mean loaf-of-bread-small. By contrast, the wing sails, when deployed, are the size of a boxing ring. The sails catch light momentum, which carries photons that have no mass, but possess momentum.

“As light reflects off a sail, it transfers momentum to the sail and pushes it,” reads a Planetary Society fact sheet on the subject.

A hitch in the spread of the Cubestat’s usage has been the challenge of propulsion and the Society’s trials are intended to test the viability of using solar sailing’ as an effective means of moving them.

A prior test mission, LightSail 1, was conducted in 2015. In that instance, the CubeSat was able to deploy its solar sails. LightSail 2 represents a first attempt at controlled solar sailing in the Earth’s orbit.

The CubeSat will launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket as part of the STP-2 mission being flown by the Air Force, he explained.

SpaceX is a private spaceflight company. It is in the business of floating satellites and delivering cargo to the International Space Station. It is the brainchild of Elon Musk, he of PayPal, Zip2, and Tesla fame.

The mission includes a total of 24 experimental satellites and spacecraft that are sponsored either by the Department of Defense, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The Planetary Society says it is the world’s largest independent space interest organization. It was founded by the legendary Carl Sagan and is now headed by the well-known Bill Nye, who holds the title of chief executive officer.

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