We need your consent

We and our partners use technology such as cookies on our site to personalise content and ads, provide social media features, and analyse our traffic. Click below to consent to the use of this technology across the web. Go to our Cookies Policy for more information on how we use cookies. You can change your mind and change your consent choices at any time by returning to this site.

A Solar Sail in Space: See the Awesome Views from LightSail 2

The craft's square-shaped, aluminized Mylar sail shines in the sunlight.

The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 spacecraft has successfully deployed its solar sail. This image has been de-distorted and color corrected. (Image credit: The Planetary Society)

Tuesday (July 23), The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 spacecraft successfully deployed its solar sail and became the first craft ever propelled by sunlight alone. 

The bread loaf-sized spacecraft, which was built with the support of crowdfunding efforts, launched to space aboard SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket on June 25, 2019. Flight controllers at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California began deploying the craft's solar sail Tuesday at 2:47 p.m. EDT (1847 GMT), and the sail was fully deployed by 2:50 p.m. EDT (1850 GMT).

Related: LightSail 2 Beams 1st Photos from Orbit! 

When photons hit the square solar sail, which is made up of four triangular, aluminized Mylar sections, the pressure pushes the craft forward. With no propellant other than sunlight, LightSail 2 is now successfully orbiting Earth with the power of photons alone. While solar photons have no mass, they have momentum, and when they reflect off of the solar sail, some of their momentum is transferred to the craft. This creates a bit of thrust which (very gently and slightly) continuously pushes the craft forward. 

LightSail 2's Camera 2 captures the craft's solar sail deploying. (Image credit: The Planetary Society )

"Yesterday, we successfully set sail on beams of sunlight. Thanks to our team and our tens of thousands of supporters around the world, the dream started by The Planetary Society's founders more than four decades ago has taken flight," Bill Nye, CEO of The Planetary Society, said in a statement

LightSail 2's Camera 1 captures the craft's solar sail deploying.  (Image credit: The Planetary Society )

After the sail deployed, telemetry data from LightSail 2 showed that the craft's tiny motor was rotating correctly. Early data shows that the craft is already turning its sails to the sun so that, once per orbit, the sun will give the spacecraft an extra push. 

A visualization of LightSail 2 orbiting Earth.  (Image credit: Josh Spradling/The Planetary Society)

"The successful deployment of the solar sail and the onset of sail control completes our critical post-launch phase. Now, we are prepared for the solar sail's mission, to track how the orbit changes and evaluate solar sailing performance," LightSail 2 project manager David Spencer said in the statement. 

Downloaded yesterday (July 24), images taken by the craft show the solar sail unfurling and the craft's spectacular view of planet Earth. LightSail 2 is equipped with two fisheye camera lenses, each of which can image more than half of the solar sail.

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Recent news