A “solar sail” was deployed in orbit by a privately financed space advocacy group. The spacecraft has the potential to open up an inexpensive way to do space travel and provide ways to clean up space debris out of orbit.
LightSail utilizes no fuel, it instead relies on a large reflective sail to catch the momentum intrinsic in sunlight.
With a history of supporting such a contraption, The Planetary Society in 2005 attempted to launch one using a converted ICBM made out of a Russian maritime submarine in the Barents Sea. But, it failed to deploy from the rocket.
This new mission has not been without woes. Two days after its May 20 launch, LightSail fell silent due to a communications software bug. Fortunately, a passing cosmic ray of high-energy particle doubtlessly generated thousands of light years away by an exploding star, inadvertently rebooted the computer about a week later.
Then a battery malfunction again silenced the probe. The ground team waited for it to float into a sunnier orbit so it could generate more power. Then on 7 June, the probe was energized and the sails finally deployed.
The shiny surfaces of the LightSail can be seen with the naked eye. It will appear like a faint, fast moving target. For a schedule of upcoming passes, it can be found by visiting the Planetary Society’s control center.
LightSail is not high enough for actually sailing. By early next week, the 32 square meter sail is slated to drag the craft down out of orbit.
LightSail is not the first solar sail ever created. Since 2010, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency or Jaxa, has sailed Ikaros in an interplanetary space from Earth to Venus.