Pasadena-Based Planetary Society's Spacecraft Now Within Reach of All

Published : Monday, July 8, 2019 | 4:37 AM

Using a newly-launched online dashboard, space enthusiasts, scientists, teachers and students alike can now see the latest information about LightSail 2, the second suitcase-sized spacecraft that The Planetary Society in Pasadena launched as part of a multi-year project to demonstrate controlled solar sailing within low Earth orbit using CubeSat technology.

They can do this (and so can you) through The Planetary Society’s new mission control dashboard which the organization released Friday. The dashboard is now posted on the Society’s website.

“Every few seconds, the spacecraft transmits what amounts to a 334-line text file filled with health and status information, including temperatures, battery levels, and spacecraft rotation rates,” the Society said in a statement. “LightSail 2 ground stations capture that data and feed it to a central repository, where it can be analyzed by the team. Our new dashboard displays information from that repository and makes the entire archive available for download.”

Using the dashboard, you can see where the spacecraft is now, and even find out when it will be flying over your location.

The dashboard also displays the last data received, which may have been hours before, or even a day since the value changed, given that the spacecraft is only in range of its ground stations at certain times of the day. At times, the ground stations may not received fresh data during a pass, the Society explained.

You can also check data such as elapsed mission time, sail status, battery charge, internal temperature, rotation rates and attitude control modes on the mission control dashboard.

LightSail 2 has three attitude control modes: detumble, when it attempts to cancel out any rotation about its three axes and “hold still” as it orbits; Z-axis alignment, when it points its Z-axis along Earth’s magnetic field to orient its antenna for optimal communications; and solar sailing, when the spacecraft is attempting to raise its orbit using the solar sail.

The mission control dashboard also features a map showing where the spacecraft is in real time. The map will also show LightSail 2′s current latitude and longitude, its altitude in kilometers, and speed in kilometers per second, the Planetary Society said.

For anyone waiting to see LightSail overhead, the dashboard provides estimates on when the spacecraft will be visible on a particular location.

Primarily because of its size, you may not be able to see LightSail 2 until its sails are deployed, and even then, seeing conditions will vary based on how the sail is angled at any particular time. Your best chances of seeing the spacecraft, the Society said, will be during dusk and dawn passes.

LightSail 2 was launched on June 25 aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch was part of the U.S. Air Force’s STP-2 mission. Initially enclosed within a small satellite built by Georgia Tech students, LightSail 2 officially deployed on Tuesday, July 2.

LightSail 2 aims to become the first spacecraft in Earth orbit propelled solely by sunlight. The Planetary Society’s goal is to raise LightSail 2’s orbit by a measurable amount, showing that solar sailing is a viable means of propulsion for CubeSats, which are small, standardized spacecraft that are part of a global effort to lower the cost of space exploration.

For more information on seeing and tracking LightSail 2, visit The Planetary Society’s mission page, http://www.planetary.org/explore/projects/lightsail-solar-sailing.

To access the LightSail 2 mission control dashboard, go to hwww.planetary.org/explore/projects/lightsail-solar-sailing/lightsail-mission-control.html.

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