An experimental spacecraft has set sail in space. LightSail 2, developed by space advocacy group The Planetary Society, has unfurled a solar sail and begun harnessing sunlight to propel itself through space. The craft was launched on 25 June aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. Now, the small boxes that held its sails have opened.
LightSail® is a crowdfunded project from The Planetary Society to demonstrate that solar sailing is a viable means of propulsion for CubeSats — small, standardized spacecraft that are part of a global effort to lower the cost of space exploration. Our LightSail 2 spacecraft, launched on June 25, 2019, uses sunlight alone to change its orbit, and is currently operating under an extended mission to further advance solar sailing technology.
The new type of spacecraft propulsion system has been designed by scientists from the Australian National University (ANU) as part of an international initiative aiming to explore the worlds surrounding Alpha Centauri. The Breakthrough Starshot project calls for the design of an ultra-lightweight spacecraft, which acts as a light-sail, to travel with unprecedented speed to the triple star system 4.37 light-years away.