One of the coolest science projects of the year has been floating around dead for eight days — but that experimental solar sail craft is back online. Let the science commence!
The LightSail project, a Planetary Society mission meant to test the feasibility of solar sail tech, was recently launched on the back of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket out of Cape Canaveral, but it went silent after two days of communications. It stayed that way for eight days, but the onboard computer has been reset and the team on Earth is back in contact. Heck, engineers are already sending up a software patch.
Officials say the reboot was likely triggered by a stray cosmic ray. Talk about some straight-up serendipity. Here’s what Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye had to say about the good news:
"Our LightSail called home! It’s alive! Our LightSail spacecraft has rebooted itself, just as our engineers predicted. Everyone is delighted. We were ready for three more weeks of anxiety. In this meantime, the team has coded a software patch ready to upload. After we are confident in the data packets regarding our orbit, we will make decisions about uploading the patch and deploying our sails— and we’ll make that decision very soon. This has been a rollercoaster for us down here on Earth, all the while our capable little spacecraft has been on orbit going about its business. In the coming two days, we will have more news, and I am hopeful now that it will be very good."
Now that it’s back online, the solar sail spacecraft test will serve as a precursor to a more extensive 2016 mission. The next step for LightSail? The big one, which will find the ship deploying its solar sails. That move is expected to come soon.
What’s your take on solar sail tech? Do you think it could have some major implications in the years to come?