LightSail 2 Will Test Our Ability to Harness the Momentum of Light in Space
The Planetary Society has unveiled the successor of its first solar sail project, the LightSail 2. It will take flight sometime this year when SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket is ready.
Eight months ago, a CubeSat, no bigger than a loaf of bread, was deployed into low Earth orbit. It contained a LightSail, and was the first time flight by light would be successfully tested. The Planetary Society has announced the mission's success, paving the way for LightSail 2.
The concept of the solar sail was dreamed by the master of the cosmos himself, Carl Sagan. Astronomers and physicists before him discovered that light has a tiny bit of momentum. He believed if we were able to build a sail to harness this momentum, humans could skirt across the solar system.
“[It] travels on the radiation and particles that come out of the sun, the wind from the sun," Sagan said in a 1976 broadcast of the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson."Because it has a constant acceleration, it can get you around the inner part of the solar system a lot faster...than the usual sorts of rocket propulsion.”
What's more, the cost of launching a LightSail into space is far less than a traditional rocket-powered machine.
“It would have the capability to take you to the moon, to Mars, to asteroids at a very low cost, which is a big problem, you know, how much anything costs,” Bill Nye said.
The LightSail 2 has been undergoing terrestrial tests to make sure its sails are ready for launch later this year. The tiny CubeSat, which holds the LightSail 2 will be loaded into SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket and released 450 miles away from Earth—far enough out of the way to avoid our planet's atmospheric drag. It's there it will unfurl its 32 square meter sails and fly.
It's these first tests which will set the bedrock for future projects to understand what designs are optimal for deep space travel.
Photo Credit: LightSail/ The Planetary Society
Credit: CubeSat/ The Planetary Society
Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at PCMag.com where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker
Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.
- Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
- At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
We take fewer mental pictures per second.
- Recent memories run in our brains like sped-up old movies.
- In childhood, we capture images in our memory much more quickly.
- The complexities of grownup neural pathways are no match for the direct routes of young brains.
In the face of seemingly unstoppable gun violence, Americans could stand to gain by looking to the Swiss.
- According to a recent study, the U.S. had the second highest number of gun-related deaths in 2016 after Brazil.
- Like the U.S., Switzerland has a high rate of gun ownership. However, it has a considerably lower rate of deaths from gun violence.
- Though pro-gun advocates point to Switzerland as an example of how gun ownership doesn't have to correlate with mass shootings, Switzerland has very different regulations, practices, and policies related to guns than America.
It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?
- Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
- Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
- Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.