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LightSail 2 spacecraft ends its solar-sailing mission in a blaze of glory - Space.com

LightSail 2 spacecraft ends its solar-sailing mission in a blaze of glory - Space.com

LightSail 2 spacecraft ends its solar-sailing mission in a blaze of glory - Space.com
Nov 19, 2022 1 min, 33 secs

The LightSail 2 spacecraft will ride on sunshine no more.

The Planetary Society's crowdfunded solar sailing craft re-entered Earth's atmosphere on Thursday morning (Nov.17) after nearly 3.5 years in orbit — more than three times longer than its designed mission life.

The LightSail 2 team has received no communications from the spacecraft since that date, leading them to conclude that the shoebox-sized craft had finally given up the ghost after completing 18,000 orbits and traveling about 5 million miles (8 million kilometers) around our planet.

(LightSail 2 wasn't the first craft of any type to solar sail in space, however; Japan's Ikaros probe did so in 2010.) .

LightSail 2 has shown that solar sailing is an effective and viable propulsion method for small spacecraft, including tiny satellites known as cubesats, team members said.

At this altitude, Earth's atmosphere is still dense enough to exert a slight drag on a spacecraft, and it is this effect that eventually sealed the fate of LightSail 2. .

Because of the large surface area of the craft's solar sail, which measured 244 square feet (32 square meters)  —  about the size of a boxing ring  —  it experienced a larger drag effect than other spacecraft of its mass.

During its third year of operations, in which it demonstrated its most efficient solar sailing, LightSail 2 experienced increased atmospheric drag due to a boost in solar activity.

"As solar activity increased even more, solar sailing was unable to compete with the increased drag due to atmospheric density increase."!

— A solar sail in space: See the awesome views from LightSail 2.

Over the last several weeks, LightSail 2 had been dropping deeper and deeper into Earth's atmosphere, experiencing more and more drag, which, in turn, dramatically increased the rate of its drop.

"The spacecraft was caught in an ever-increasing snowball effect: as the spacecraft got lower, the density increased, which caused the spacecraft to get lower even more quickly," Betts wrote.


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