What Is LightSail and How Does It Work?

Sunjammer Solar Sail Prototype

Science fiction has supplied us with a whole lot of concepts for know-how which have slowly develop into actuality. Simply take a look at the smartphone in your pocket. Greater than half a century in the past, Star Trek gave us the thought of moveable communicators and knowledge tablets that might give you all the data you would ever want at your fingertips. Immediately, we’ve acquired cell telephones and tablets that do exactly that. When you’d proven them to Gene Roddenbery in 1966 when his present premiered, he’d have thought you have been from the longer term.

Cell telephones aren’t the one know-how we’ve plucked from science fiction. Let’s take a more in-depth take a look at LightSail — what it’s, the way it works and the way it would possibly change the best way we take a look at interstellar journey.

What Is LightSail?

LightSail 2 is the brainchild of the Planetary Society, a CubeSat that was launched on June 25, 2019. As a substitute of counting on chemical thrusters, LightSail is exclusive in that it’s propelled fully by daylight. Sure, you learn that proper. These spacecraft don’t use any chemical propulsion to navigate, transfer or hold their orbit secure.

The Planetary Society has been working toward this dream since 2005 once they launched their first photo voltaic crusing spacecraft, Cosmos 1. Sadly, the Cosmos 1 didn’t make it into orbit on account of rocket failure. Nonetheless, in 2015, Lightsail 1 did. It additionally accomplished a take a look at flight, which was an orbit round our dwelling planet. LightSail 2, which launched this previous June, continues to be circling the planet, and the tentative plan is to deorbit the spacecraft someday within the second half of 2020. Which may change, although, relying on how effectively it survives throughout 2020.

How Does It Work?

How do photo voltaic sails work?  The sort of propulsion depends on particle physics, or quite the physics of a single particle — the photon. These photons make up the seen gentle you see. Once they come into contact with one thing, they bounce off, which is what means that you can see them. Whereas these particles don’t have any mass, they do have momentum. Keep in mind what Sir Issac Newton stated about momentum?

Newton’s Third Legislation of Movement says that for each motion, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. Meaning when these photons — particularly those in daylight — bounce off the LightSail’s photo voltaic sails, they switch that momentum to the spacecraft, pushing it in the wrong way.

In area, you don’t have the identical issues you do on Earth — specifically, there’s no ambiance to create drag that can sluggish you down and ultimately cease you. LightSail’s photo voltaic sails may doubtlessly create limitless vitality for transportation due to Newton’s Second Legislation — an object in movement will keep in movement except acted upon by an out of doors pressure.

Regardless of trying pretty delicate, the photo voltaic sails are designed to resist the tough circumstances of outer area. If all goes effectively, LightSail 2 will proceed to orbit the planet for an additional 12 months till the Planetary Society workforce decides to deorbit the spacecraft.

What Does LightSail Imply for Area Journey?

Photo voltaic sails present up in science fiction on a regular basis, from Rely Dooku’s photo voltaic sloop in “Star Wars Episode 2: Assault of the Clones” to Jim Hawking’s photo voltaic surfer in Disney’s “Treasure Planet,” however what does this imply for interstellar journey?

It may symbolize the way forward for area journey, and it’s at present the quickest kind of transportation we will handle  A 1,300 sq. foot photo voltaic sail may carry a spacecraft around 1.3 billion miles a year. No chemical propulsion can handle these speeds.  It may enable us to flee the solar’s heliosphere and utterly go away our photo voltaic system inside a decade.

Until we determine a technique to attain near the velocity of sunshine in the case of area journey, we could also be exploring the photo voltaic system and past with huge photo voltaic sails earlier than you realize it.

Trying Towards the Stars

Are photo voltaic sails the following know-how to be plucked from science fiction and moved into the realm of science truth? LightSail2’s success reveals us that it’s each attainable and possible. Whereas we don’t at present have any passenger spacecraft outfitted with photo voltaic sails, it could develop into an choice for journey each within the photo voltaic system and past.


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