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Lightsail 2 still orbits Earth

May 14, 2020

LightSail 2 is a reflective aluminized mylar sail 340 square feet (32 square meters) in size. The core, containing imaging and communications equipment, is 4″ x 4″ x 12″ (10cm x 10cm x 30cm). It is a giant kite, successfully sailing on the solar wind.

Location of LightSail 2 (shiny square) on 5-12-20 at 1319 PDT. Red dot locates Los Angeles, CA; yellow dot locates apparent direction of sun as seen from Los Angeles at that moment. Map adjusts to your location.

Lightsail 2, the Planetary Society’s second foray into crowdfunded interplanetary travel, was launched on 25 June, 2019, carried to orbit altitude on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. Eighty minutes later the sail’s Prox-1 carrier spacecraft was released at 720 kilometers (447 miles) above the ground.

Link to LightSail 2 Mission Control information panel

Researchers received their first pictures from LightSail 2 on 7 July, 2019, and its solar sails deployed on 23 July 2019. By 31 July 2019, despite much random tumbling, LightSail 2’s slightly off-center ovoid orbit had been raised by a measurable amount. On 4 September, 2019 it had achieved a maximum apogee (maximum altitude) of 734 Km above ground, with a counterbalancing perigee (minimum altitude) of 699 Km. By 10 March, 2020 the orbit had slightly decayed – as intended – to 727 Km apogee and 693 Km perigee. In September, 2020 the perigee is expected to begin to encounter Earth’s atmosphere, and LightSail 2 will initiate reentry.

When the sun is slightly below the horizon and Lightsail is in the proper position, you can see it by reflected sunlight. This page will tell you the times/dates of all passes nearest your location and the upcoming visible passes for your location.

If you see it, the Planetary Society wants to hear from you! They’ll want to know: your name, your observing location, your observing date and time, and any other additional info you want to share, including pictures.  [Chuck Almdale]


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