Solar Sail Experiment Demonstrates ‘Flight by Light’ – Voice of America


A major demonstration in solar sailing has been declared a success by the organization that launched the experiment.

The U.S.-basedPlanetary Societysaid this week itsLightSail 2 spacecraftsuccessfully used sunlight to orbit Earth. The trip was the highest performing solar sail demonstration to date.

Solar sailing is a method that can push a vehicle through space. A spacecraft is attached to a solar sail to capture wind pressure from sunlight. Light is made up of particles calledphotons. Photons themselves do not have any mass. But when they travel through space, they can create pressure as a force for movement.

LightSail 2 is a small spacecraft that weighs about five kilograms. It was designed by the Planetary Society, a not-for-profit group. Itlaunched into orbitin June from a rocket built by American technology company SpaceX.

“This is a very exciting day for us, and for me personally,” Planetary Society chiefBill Nyesaid in an announcement about the experiment. “This idea that you could fly a spacecraft with nothing but photons is surprising, and for me, it’s veryromanticthat you could be sailing onsunbeams.”

The project teamsaid it had confirmedthat sunlight was responsible for moving the spacecraft to an orbital high point of about two kilometers. It was the first time solarpropulsionwas successfully demonstrated in Earth’s orbit.

But the technology has been tested before. In 2010, Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency launched a spacecraft called IKAROS. The agency used a solar sail to propel the craft past Venus and into orbit around the sun.

The Planetary Society deployed its first solar sail in 2015. The LightSail 1 demonstration successfully released a solar sail before re-entering Earth’s atmosphere a week later.

LightSail 2 is a $7 million project paid for by Planetary Society members, as well as citizens who donated to a special campaign.

The goal of LightSail 2 is to demonstrate that solar sails can be used to propel small satellites called CubeSats. These small satellites can carry scientific instruments like cameras. Another main goal is to test the power of sunlight to propel spacecraft without the need for costly rocket fuel.

Bill Nye said LightSail 2’s success could open the door to future space travel possibilities using solar sailing technology. One trip could include Nye’s personal goal: using solar sail spacecraft to carry supplies toMars. He said futuremissionscould also “look forsigns of lifeand change the course of human history.”

Nye added: “Space exploration brings out the best in us.”

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from the Planetary Society, Reuters and VOA News. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

photonn.a very small piece of matter that is the basic unit of electromagnetic energy

romanticadj.exciting and mysterious

sunbeamn.a beam of light from the sun

propulsionn.the force produced by a system for moving, or propelling, a vehicle or other object

missionn.an important task, usually involving travel

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