LightSail 2 Mission Ready to Burn in Earth’s Atmosphere

LightSail 2 Mission Ready to Burn in Earth's Atmosphere
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The LightSail 2 spacecraft captured this image on June 11, 2022, showing Madagascar and parts of Mozambique.

The LightSail 2 spacecraft captured this image on June 11, 2022, showing Madagascar and parts of Mozambique.
picture: Planetary Community

In the last three years, a little nutBread-sized spacecraft with giant wings sailed in the sunbeams low earth orbit. LightSail 2 far exceeds life expectancy and proved that solar sails can indeed be used to fly spacecraft. However, its journey around our planet is sadly coming to an end, as Earth’s atmosphere drags the spacecraft downward and toward where it will eventually burn. atmospheric flames.

Planetary Society LightSail 2 Released in June 2019 and opened 344 square feet (32 square meters) a month after the sun sail. LightSail 2 gained an altitude of 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) just two weeks after opening its wings and this experiment is a success. But over the past few months, the LightSail 2 has been losing altitude at an accelerating rate. ratio. It currently cruises at an average altitude of 390 miles (627 km).), down about 446 miles (718 km)) at the beginning of the task, According to the Planetary Society.

The scientists behind the mission predict that LightSail 2 will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere in the next few months, but they don’t have a firm date. During re-entry, the spacecraft will move It will quickly create an energetic pressure wave in front of it, causing the air around it to heat up and burn the LightSail into a fiery veil.

Solar sails act on photons from the Sun, causing small explosions. momentum push the spacecraft; aspect The photons hit the LightSail’s wings, pushing the spacecraft farther from the Sun. If a spacecraft can overcome the resistance from the Earth’s atmosphere, it could potentially reach very high altitudes.

LightSail 2 has had some ups and downs (literally) throughout its mission. orbiter sometimes lost a few meters a day and sometimes won several meters. But after three years of sailing around the Earth, the experimental device to start experience a steep fall at height as a result of several factors.

This graph shows the average height of the LightSail over time (shown in blue).

This graph shows the average height of the LightSail over time (shown in blue).
illustration: Planetary Community

As the spacecraft descended, the atmospheric density increased very rapidly, causing atmospheric drag. LightSail hit the atmosphere particles traveled as speeds to reach 20,000 miles per hour (32000 km/h), causing the spacecraft to slow down. “Our situation is more extreme than most spacecraft because the area of ​​our sail is huge compared to the mass of the spacecraft.”The Planetary Society wrote in an article: Declaration. “Imagine throwing a stone compared to throwing a piece of paper. Atmospheric drift will stop the paper much faster than the rock. ”

Ironically, Sun also worked against LightSail 2. When the sun is more active, warms up Earth’s upper atmosphere causes it to spread to higher altitudes. at the beginning The sun was going through some interruptions as part of its 11-year cycle, but our host lately star stepped up its activities. solar maximum period. there is this caused the atmosphere busier at higher altitudes, Even reaching the spacecraft, causing the LightSail 2 to be dragged downward.

The third factor that led to LightSail’s demise was human rather than cosmic. The task suffered communication errors due to malfunction equipment in the ground station. At times when communications were lost, the crew was unable to send data to the spacecraft, causing it to set sail. to suffer a little.

Although LightSail 2 soon to meet its fiery demise, the legacy of the spacecraft will still live on. orbiter inspired several other missions, contain NASA’s NEA Scout A near-Earth asteroid mission (Scheduled to be released in August), NASA’s Advanced Composite Solar Sail System for testing sail boom material in Earth orbit (Planned to launch mid 2022)and NASA’s sun cruiser (scheduled for 2025 launch). Solar sail era, it seems, fast approaching.

Sea: Sunlight-Propelled LightSail 2 Raises Orbit 10,500 Feet In Just Two Weeks

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