American non-profit organization PlanetaryThe Society, which is involved in projects in the fields of astronomy, planetary sciences and space exploration, is going to test this summer the LightSail 2, a new version of the solar sail, which can later be used in other scientific missions. A similar version of the sail is planned to be used in the new NASA Near-Earth Asteroid Scout (NEA Scout) spacecraft, a compact Cubsat, which is scheduled to launch next year.
LightSail 2 is scheduled to launchearlier on June 13 from the Kennedy Space Center using the new launch vehicle Falcon Heavy from SpaceX. The main goal of the project is to bring the solar sail to a near-earth orbit to a height of about 725 kilometers and test its effectiveness.
Recall that the principle of the solar sailis to use the pressure of sunlight or a laser on the mirror surface to propel the spacecraft. The advantage of this system is that there is no need to use any kind of fuel - in this case, the main impulse is given by the photons of light pushing the sail and, accordingly, the device itself. According to Bruce Betts, chief scientific consultant of the Planetary Society, in the case of compact satellites, the same cubsat, this may give an additional advantage, since here each additional gram of weight is counted.
“We were waiting for a suitable launch window when it would be possible to bring the device to a higher orbit, where the pressure of sunlight would dominate the atmospheric pressure,” Betts told Space.com.
"In fact, we will try to implementcontrolled flight of the solar sail. As part of its orbital movement, the sail will be under the direct action of sunlight, and some at the edge of this impact, ”Betts added.
What is improved in comparison with LightSail 1?
LightSail 1 was launched on May 20, 2015.of the year. The device was launched into orbit by the top-secret space drone X-37B. In low Earth orbit, the sail spent less than a month. Despite the success in achieving the main mission of the sail opening mission, he faced several problems as part of this test.
Just two days after launch, the error insoftware forced to postpone the sail layout until June 7th. Two days later, the spacecraft transmitted an image in which it was obvious that the sail had successfully opened, which was the main goal of the mission. But then the problems started.
“Until the engineers could getthe picture from the cameras located on the other side of the device, the LightSail radio transmitter began to broadcast a continuous and meaningless signal, as a result of which the device stopped responding to commands from the control center, ”explained Planetary Society employee Jason Davies on his blog on June 15, 2015.
The spacecraft also ceased to transmit messages on June 10, shortly before it was supposed to, as planned, enter the atmosphere.
“We learned a lot from the launch of LightSail 1. Having collected a lot of information about the spacecraft and studied the problems that have arisen, we made many improvements in the new version.”
Kubsat, equipped with the LightSail 1 solar sail, took this photo on June 8, 2015
Some key changes made toLightSail 2 design, will allow the device to more effectively use particles of sunlight. The most serious mechanical change made to the design of LightSail 2 was the gyroscope, which allows the device to orient properly in space. It uses a new method for determining the height, as well as control software. In addition, the new device received more modern cameras that allow you to transfer higher-quality images of the sail.
Other changes were aimed atincrease the reliability of the spacecraft. Now, instead of “having to wait and hope that the system will reboot in case of something,” says Betts, “the spacecraft electronics will be equipped with timers and an automatic restart system, which itself, in the worst scenario, will be able to completely restart all LightSail 2 systems” . In addition, the device will be equipped with reflectors, which will make it easier to track LightSail 2 from the Earth. And the device will often transmit radio messages to Earth, so that engineers have the most up-to-date information about its condition.
Dream of interplanetary travel
This photograph shows the solar sail of the Japanese spacecraft Ikaros, moving to Venus. In the background of the image, approximately 80,000 kilometers from Ikaros, Venus is visible
Not only is Planetary Society conducting testssolar sail technology. One of the last most notable examples is the Japanese spacecraft Ikaros (Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun), in which the solar sail was used as the main propulsion unit. His conclusion was made along the way with the Akatsuki spacecraft, designed to study Venus. At the moment it is the only spacecraft on the solar sail, which was used for deep-space research. In 2012, Ikaros was even recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the first interplanetary spacecraft on a solar sail.
In 2010, the low Earth orbit of the Earththe NanoSail-D2 spacecraft of the NASA aerospace agency was also launched. This mission was more focused on the task of deploying the solar sail in orbit and see how it behaves there. In addition, the agency planned to conduct another mission, called Sunjammer, but it was later canceled.
The Ikaros spacecraft of the Japanese space agency JAXA after its launch on June 14, 2010. The photo was taken with a small camera thrown out of the device.
Currently Planetary Society is oncommunication with the team that developed the NEA Scout spacecraft, which will also use the solar sail. The task of the apparatus will be the study of the asteroid 1991 VG, but the final details of the mission have not yet been approved. The launch is scheduled for 2019. It also plans to launch other compact satellites. The launch of the spacecraft into orbit will be carried out within the framework of the first Orion Exploration Mission-1 mission using the new launch vehicle Space Launch System.
"They plan to use a solar sail with a similar design and technical characteristics of the sail LightSail 2," - said Betts.
Solar sail technology is interested in variousspace agencies because it eliminates the need to use any type of fuel. Due to this, solar sails are considered as one of the possible methods of interplanetary space travel in the future.