[Via Satellite 05-22-2015] The Planetary Society’s LightSail satellite — a technology demonstration mission evaluating the use of momentum from solar photons as a propulsion method — launched May 20 aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rocket. The LightSail is one of 10 CubeSats launched as part of the Ultra Lightweight Technology and Research Auxiliary Satellite (ULTRASat) along with the U.S. Air Force’s secretive X-37B space plane.
The Planetary Society satellite will employ a large, thin, reflective sail to transfer the momentum of solar particles to accelerate the spacecraft using only the sun’s energy. NASA is considering the use of solar sails on future exploration mission secondary payloads, and data from this mission will advance understanding of this form of propulsion. The Planetary Society has agreed to provide NASA with a report on the outcomes and scientific findings from this first experiment.
This first LightSail mission specifically is designed to test the spacecraft’s critical systems, including the deployment sequence for the Mylar solar sail, which measures 32 square meters (344 square feet). The Planetary Society is planning a second, full solar sailing demonstration flight for 2016.
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