About eight months ago, the Planetary Society's first LightSail unfurled in orbit to test the viability of using the technology to accelerate future spacecraft. The company, headed by Bill Nye, has now released a video of the LightSail 2, a bigger solar sail housed in a loaf-of-bread-sized CubeSat.
A light sail uses the energy from photons—in this case those in the form of sunlight—to propel a large reflective surface. As the photons bounce off the surface, they transfer some of their momentum into a small push on the sail. Over time, and without friction slowing it down, a solar propulsion sail should be able to accelerate to very high speeds in the vacuum of space.
The Planetary Society's new video shows engineers unfurling LightSail 2's Mylar sails in a deployment test held last month. The four triangular sails form a square-shaped kite that has an area of 32 square meters.
The spacecraft had some minor and expected issues, including lags in the deployment motor and glitches in the onboard cameras. LightSail 1 initially experienced some technical issues in space, and engineers are working to prepare LightSail 2 for a smooth deployment later this year.
LightSail 2 is scheduled to hitch a ride on the first operational SpaceX rocket. The CubeSat holding the sail will be housed in the spacecraft being developed at Georgia Tech. Once LightSail 2 reaches an orbital altitude of 500 miles, the reflective sails will deploy and the spacecraft will attempt to use energy from the sun to achieve propulsion. The launch date for LightSail 2 is dependent on how soon SpaceX can get their Falcon Heavy rocket ready, but the launch is expected to take place within the year.