Set the sails, we’re on our way! No, we’re not talking about sailing ships, but almost.
In its constant search for alternative means of propulsion to those using fuel, the Planetary Society foundation has in fact completed the LightSail 2 project, which sees the launch, on June 22, of a small spacecraft that will take advantage of the thrust of solar radiation captured by its solar sails.
An ambitious project, which the American foundation has financed entirely thanks to donations from ordinary citizens with a passion for astronomy and which follows that of LightSail, an earlier version of the small vehicle that, the size of a toaster and weighing only 5 kg, will be hooked to the satellite Prox 1. The launch will be carried out by the Kennedy Space Center in Florida through a Falcon rocket, from Elon Musk’s Space X company. From the belly of the satellite, LightSail 2 will disengage after 7 days, to then activate its 4 solar panels that will give the necessary energy to the vehicle. But the highlight of the operation will come the next day, when the 4 metal arms will open and finally deploy the triangular sails.
Just like a land-based sailing ship as soon as it encounters the favorable wind, LightSail 2 will start its maneuvers and thus make its way to the earth’s orbit, 720 km above the ground, becoming the first unmotorized vehicle to reach a predetermined point. The goal, according to the Planetary Society, is not only to give credit to a new type of space propulsion at low cost but with high efficiency but also to use it to reach the Moon or Mars relatively quickly and cheaply in terms of energy.
Not only that. This type of propulsion would also encourage the use of remotely controlled probes to be sent to distant systems without the problem of autonomy or even to develop solar panels of new generation that can facilitate the same permanence of man on hostile soils such as Mars or the Moon. A project very similar to the Small business innovation research of NASA or to the even more ambitious one of the Breakthrough Initiative that, together with Stephen Hawking, started the program Breakthrough Starshot. In this case we talk about mini sailing ships, the starships, which will have the task of overcoming the boundaries of the Solar System, going as far as to study Proxima Centauri, its planets and its particular magnetic fields within the next 20 years, exploiting the power of new laser light propulsion.