The Strategist

‘LightSail’, A Solar Powered Spacecraft, Offers A New Dimension To The Future Of Space Exploration

06/06/2015 - 12:08

The Solar Sail, launched by an organisation of Planetary-Society headed by Bill Nye, used the energy of sunlight to manoeuvre its way in the space. – 29 May 2015 – Until now, most of the spacecrafts that were launched from the earth continue to rotate in the space with the help of small rockets, namely thrusters, which are none other than “small rockets” that consume fuel to “push the craft along” while emitting exhaust. However, the new venture of “Bill Nye’s organization” seems to alter the norm.
As per the updates of Joseph Stromberg, in the morning of 20th May 2015, scientists launched the very first ever “LightSail”. It comprises of a large yet “thin Mylar sail”, which is specially designed to trap sunlight for converting the “pressure” of sun’s rays “into forward momentum”. The said launch was carried out as a test to determine the success level of the venture. In fact, date received from the “Lightsail” confirms that the sail is on its orbit, although the information regarding the deployment of the same isn’t clear yet.
‘LightSail’ is a pioneering technology, which if “perfected” can bring down the cost of sending spacecrafts “all over the solar system”. Moreover, other spacecrafts harnessing “solar power” to move in the space were launched earlier, although they weren’t successful due to “rocket failures and other problems”.
Interestingly, the ‘LightSail’ is not a N.A.S.A venture, the project is being carried out by “the Planetary Society” whereby the head of the team is Bill Nye. In fact, Vox- Science and Health writes:
“If the group is successful with this test, it could point toward an entirely new model for space research.”
Tracing the history of the “solar sailing” concept down the lane of time will take one back to the 1800s, when James Clerk Maxwell, a “Scottish” scientist, discovered the phenomenon that light hitting an object in space “exerts very slight amounts of pressure on it”. Thus, the idea of collecting “enough photons” capable of “significantly” altering “the momentum of a spacecraft over time” was conceived.
Inspired by the fiction writers of 1950’s trials of solar sails designed to “intentionally” take into account the pressure of the photons hitting them, while they mapped out the “trajectory”, were launched. Moreover, Bill Nye informs:
"Back in 1976, Carl Sagan went on the Tonight show with Johnny Carson and held up a model of a solar sail".
The plans of using a craft propelled by solar sail to meet with Halley’s Comet were aborted due to N.A.S.A’s decision of “devoting” the said money into “other programs”. However, eventually in 2010, N.A.S.A sent a small craft which even though reached its designated orbit, failed to send any feedback. The very year, IKAROS, a Japanese spacecraft, was “successfully launched” which utilised the solar energy “to accelerate” on the way “to a flyby of Venus”. Nevertheless, there is ample scope and areas of research still to be done ere “solar sails can help us explore space”.
Talking about the “advantages of solar sails”, which can reduce the cost of carrying fuel, the weight of the craft, among other benefits, Bill Nye says:
"We could use solar sails to push spacecraft to all sorts of distant destinations, for a much lower cost than conventional propulsion".