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An American astronomical society is proving that, like the Vikings of old, exploration of foreign shores—in this case foreign planets—is possible if you but master the use of the humble cloth sail.
Artist’s rendering of LightSail 2: CC Josh Spradling, The Planetary Society
LightSail 2, designed and crowd-funded by the Planetary Society, is a small spacecraft that has been moving around at high-speeds in Earth’s orbit, and turning direction by capturing solar photons with a square sail the size of a boxing ring.
Having launched in July 2019, the vessel has spent over a year meandering about 186 miles (300 kilometers) above the International Space Station, at 460 miles above Earth, it has produced a trove of scientific data which mission engineers at the Planetary Society will use to advance humanity’s understanding of solar sailing—potentially, it will be a very important and reliable form of space travel in the decades to come.
Now LightSail 2 is entering the extended mission phase, where scientists will study how things like orbital decay—the degree to which the spacecraft’s trajectory gradually falls, similar to how a hula hoop falls when it stops spinning—will affect the bread loaf-sized craft as it slowly falls …
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