Solar sail burned down in Earth’s atmosphere

On November 17, the LightSail 2 solar sail descended from orbit and burned down in the earth’s atmosphere. This is stated in a message published on the website of The Planetary Society, the largest non-governmental non-profit space organization on Earth.

The last picture taken by the solar sail LightSail 2, October 24, 2022. Source: The Planetary Society

The solar sail was created by specialists of the Planetary Society on the basis of the CubeSat (3U) platform. Its dimensions were 10×10×30 cm, weight — less than 5 kg. The device was equipped with a solar sail made of mylar with a total area of 32 m². It was put into orbit in the summer of 2019 using a Falcon Heavy rocket.

LightSail 2 was intended to conduct experiments and demonstrate the possibility of using solar sails to control spacecraft. It coped with the task. After entering the orbit of the sail deployment, the specialists of the Planetary Society oriented the device in such a way that under the influence of sunlight it changed its orbit. The experiment was successful: the sail allowed the nano-satellite to raise its apogee, as well as change its inclination and eccentricity.

Initially, it was assumed that LightSail 2 would work for about a year, after which it would descend from orbit and burn up in the upper atmosphere. However, thanks to the successful demonstration of the sail, the Planetary Society decided to extend the service life of the device. In total, it worked for three and a half years.

But, although the solar sail allowed LightSail 2 to “resist” the braking effect of the upper layers of the earth’s atmosphere, over time it overcame the thrust it created. The height of the spacecraft’s orbit began to decrease, which was largely influenced by the beginning of a new cycle of solar activity. As a result, on November 17, LightSail 2 entered the earth’s atmosphere and burned down.

But, although LightSail 2 has ceased to exist, experts will analyze the data collected by it for a long time, and the solar sail technology has already found application in other missions. An example is the NEA Scout probe, which went into space as a passing cargo of the Artemis I mission. The device is equipped with a solar sail with an area of 86 m², which will allow it to fly over the asteroid 2020 GE.

According to

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