Solar Sail spacecraft about to crash through Earth’s atmosphere

LightSail 2 floats above the Arabian Peninsula and the Red Sea.

LightSail 2 floats above the Arabian Peninsula and the Red Sea.
Image: The planetary society

A small spacecraft is about to sail to its doom and burns up as it enters Earth’s atmosphere before the end of its mission.

The Planetary Society Light sail 2 has been pulled down by the gravitational pull of Earth’s atmosphere, and is expected to re-enter the atmosphere within days, the organization announced on Monday. If that happens, the spacecraft will burn upbringing his three and a half year journey in orbit to a fiery end.

“We always knew this would be the spacecraft’s ultimate fate,” wrote The Planetary Society. “Despite the sadness to see it go, all those who worked on this project and the 50,000 individual donors who fully funded the LightSail program should look back on this with a moment of pride.”

LightSail 2 launched in June 2019 and unfurled its 32 square meter solar sail a month after reaching its orbital post. The purpose of the mission was to test solar sails as a way for spacecraft to travel.

Solar sails run on photons from the sun, creating small bursts of momentum that propel the spacecraft. As the photons hit LightSail’s wings, the spacecraft was pushed farther from the sun and reached higher altitudes. Just two weeks after the LightSail 2 spread its wings, it reached 2 miles (3.2 km), making this experiment a success.

In fact, the mission has far exceeded its initial one-year timeline and has been in orbit for 3.5 years, completing 18,000 orbits and covering 5 million miles (8 million kilometers). But in recent months LightSail 2 began to lose height at an increasingly rapid rate.

The spacecraft fell victim to atmospheric drag, slowing LightSail 2 as it collided with atmospheric particles during its orbit. The sun also played a role in the demise of LightSail 2, with Earth’s upper atmosphere warming and becoming denser, slowing the spacecraft.

The mission also suffered from communication failures due to faulty ground station equipment. During timeThe loss of communication prevented the team from sending data to the spacecraft, which caused some sailing to suffer.

After sinking lower through Earth’s atmosphere, the spacecraft will eventually re-enter the atmosphere. During reentry, LightSail 2 will move so fast that it will create an energetic pressure wave in front of it, heating the air around it and turning the spacecraft into a disintegrating fireball.

LightSail 2 may be drawing to a close, but the experiment has already inspired a new generation of spacecraft. Which include spacecraft NASA’s NEA Scout mission to a near-Earth asteroid (planned launch in August), NASA’s Advanced Composite Solar Sail System to test sailboom material in orbit (scheduled for launch sometime in mid-2022), and NASA’s solar cruiser (planned for launch in 2025).

We look forward to LightSail’s fiery return and say goodbye to the long-running solar sailor.

More: NASA restores Pacific Ocean inflatable heat shield after orbital test

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *