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Members of LightSail 2 Team Declare Their Mission a Success

"This is a very exciting day for us, and for me personally," said Bill Nye, chief executive officer of the Planetary Society

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LightSail 2, Team, Mission
This image was taken during the LightSail 2 sail deployment sequence, July 23, 2019. Baja California and Mexico are visible in the background. LightSail 2's dual 185-degree fisheye lenses can each capture more than half of the sail. VOA

Members of the LightSail 2 team declared their mission a success in a teleconference Wednesday. The citizen-funded spacecraft is the highest-performing solar sail to date and the first to demonstrate the ability to orbit Earth in a controlled way.

“This is a very exciting day for us, and for me personally,” said Bill Nye, chief executive officer  of the Planetary Society, the organization behind the mission. “This idea that you could fly a spacecraft with nothing but photons is surprising, and for me, it’s very romantic that you could be sailing on sunbeams.”

LightSail 2 is the latest demonstration of solar sail technology, which uses the gentle pressure of photons — the particles of light — on a lightweight, reflective surface to propel a craft through space, similar to the way the wind pushes a sailing ship across the ocean. However, instead of canvas, solar sails are made of thin sheets of Mylar, the same crinkly silver material often used for helium-filled balloons.

Faster speeds

LightSail 2, Team, Mission
Members of the LightSail 2 team declared their mission a success in a teleconference Wednesday. Pixabay

Although the pressure of the sun’s rays is no greater than the weight of a paperclip dropping on the sail, sunlight is a constant source of energy. Scientists expect that as long as sunlight reaches them, solar sails will keep accelerating to much higher speeds than what is provided by traditional propulsion methods using chemical or nuclear fuel.

By tracking the location of the spacecraft, the team found that it had traveled 1.7 kilometers (1.1 miles) farther from Earth in just four days thanks to the gentle influence of sunlight. This is the first time solar propulsion has been successfully demonstrated in Earth’s orbit.

The technology has been tested before. In 2010, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched a spacecraft called IKAROS, which used a solar sail to propel it past Venus and into orbit around the Sun.

The Planetary Society, which aims to advance space exploration, deployed its first solar sail in 2015. The LightSail 1 mission successfully unfurled a solar sail before re-entering Earth’s atmosphere a week later.

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LightSail 2 follows the same trajectory. The $7 million project was funded by Planetary Society members as well as individuals who contributed to a Kickstarter campaign in 2015.

The goal of this project is to demonstrate that solar sails can be used to propel small satellites called CubeSats. These tiny satellites weigh as little as 1 kilogram and can carry scientific instruments like cameras. Specifically, LightSail 2 is carrying a 5-kilogram (11-pound) CubeSat into a controlled orbit around Earth.

Small package

LightSail 2 was launched on June 25, 2019, carefully folded into a spacecraft the size of a loaf of bread. Last week, it successfully unfolded to its full 32-square-meter (344-square-foot) extent — about the size of a boxing ring.

LightSail 2, Team, Mission
The citizen-funded spacecraft is the highest-performing solar sail to date and the first to demonstrate the ability to orbit Earth in a controlled way. Pixabay

The spacecraft orbits Earth along an elliptical path. Propelled by sunlight, the spacecraft will rise to a higher orbit through Aug. 23, 2019. As the maximum distance between Earth and LightSail 2 increases, part of its orbit will inch closer to Earth. Eventually, the spacecraft will dip low enough into the atmosphere that it will begin to slow down, re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and burn up, concluding its mission.

The team members acknowledged the mission’s 50,000 financial backers, who hail from 109 countries. Jennifer Vaughn, chief operating officer of the Planetary Society, thanked the people who “have the dream and who are willing to put down their own financial support to make it happen.”

LightSail 2’s success is encouraging for the future of solar sailing. Nye said solar sails may enable us to travel to distant destinations in the solar system, including his personal goal to “ferry cargo to Mars, look for signs of life and change the course of human history.”

Nye added that LightSail 2 is part of the bigger idea that humanity seeks to explore the universe and understand our place in it.

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“Space exploration brings out the best in us,” he said. (VOA)

Next Story

Swachh Bharat Mission Seems to Be on Its Way Out

The mission, which also inspired Bollywood to make a movie on the subject of sanitation, would now be undertaken on a back-end mission

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Swachh Bharat, Mission, Scheme
The Finance Ministry has decreased allocation to Swachh Bharat as the mission per se has almost ended with most targets till October 2, 2018 already being achieved. Flickr

With more important schemes on solid waste management and drinking water expected to get higher funding, the government’s much publicised Swachh Bharat Mission — which aims to enhance the level of sanitation in India and make the country open defecation free (ODF)– seems to be on its way out.

The Finance Ministry has decreased allocation to Swachh Bharat as the mission per se has almost ended with most targets till October 2, 2018 already being achieved. The mission, which also inspired Bollywood to make a movie on the subject of sanitation, would now be undertaken on a back-end mission of solid waste management under a cluster system, a top ministry official has said.

The mission was started in 2014. Run by the Government of India, the mission aimed to achieve an “open-defecation free” (ODF) India by October 2, 2019, by constructing 90 million toilets in rural India at a projected cost of Rs 1.96 lakh crore.

“Swachh Bharat is now almost ending. It has reached the final stage and only 10 per cent of work is there. Now back-end work is to be done — solid waste management, it will be a cluster type of a thing, which cannot be an individual kind. That also has been factored in the expenditure. There is a gradual decrease in allocation on that,” Girish Chandra Murmu, Expenditure Secretary told IANS in an interview.

Swachh Bharat, Mission, Scheme
The government’s much publicised Swachh Bharat Mission — which aims to enhance the level of sanitation in India and make the country open defecation free (ODF). Flickr

For 2019-20, the allocation for the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has fallen by 25 per cent. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced proposal to expand the mission to achieve 100 per cent solid waste management as its expansion.

The budget outlay of Rs 12,644 crore allocated for SBM (Gramin) in the current year is around Rs 4,334 crore lower than the revised estimate of 2018-19. Swachh Bharat Mission which was an election plank in 2014-15 as a core scheme had an revised outlay of Rs 16,978 crore in FY19, lower than budget estimate of Rs 17,843 crore. Prior to that, in FY18, the mission got actual outlay of Rs 19,427 crore.

Sitharaman in her Budget speech had said Swachh Bharat would now be expanded. “I now propose to expand the Swachh Bharat Mission to undertake sustainable solid waste management in every village,” she had said

“Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has touched the very conscience of the nation besides bringing enormous health and environmental benefits. This scheme initiated in 2014, has achieved a resounding success as 9.6 crore toilets have been constructed since October 2, 2014.”

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She said that more than 5.6 lakh villages have become ODF. “We have to build on this success. We must not only sustain the behavioural change seen in people but also harness the latest technologies available to transform waste into energy.”

“I now propose to expand the Swachh Bharat Mission to undertake sustainable solid waste management in every village,” she added.

With each year passage of the Swachh Bharat, critics and experts have repeatedly pointed out that while the Swachh Bharat Mission had an important goal in mind, the question of what to do with the waste accrued was never sufficiently answered. So far, India had largely been relying on the informal sector for waste management. (IANS)