CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A project from Bill Nye's nonprofit organization is set to become the first spacecraft propelled by sunlight to orbit Earth.
SpaceX is launched its Falcon Heavy rocket early Tuesday morning from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Aboard that rocket is two dozen satellites to test new technologies like an atomic clock for deep space navigation, green satellite fuel, radiation and space weather studies and WiFi communication between miniature satellites, according to SpaceX.
Also aboard the rocket is the LightSail 2, which is expected to deploy about a week after launch. The LightSail 2 is a Mylar sail about the size of a boxing ring but thinner than a human hair.
The light sail is enclosed inside a spacecraft the site of a large suitcase, which was built by Georgia Tech students. After a few days in space, the LightSail will open its solar arrays, then a day later it will unroll four cobalt-alloy booms. These booms extend like a tape measure to pull out the four triangular sails.
The organization said the sail deployment takes about three minutes.
For about a month, the LightSail 2 will swing its sail into and away from the Sun's rays as it orbits Earth.
The Planetary Society said solar sailing uses photons, which are packets of energy from light. Photons don't have mass, but they have momentum, which can be captured by large, lightweight mirrored surfaces. As this light reflects off the sail, momentum is transferred and pushes the sail.
The organization said solar sailing is a possible means of interstellar space travel.
Back in 2015, The Planetary Society launched the LightSail 1 test mission aboard the Atlas V rocket. The CubeSat (a miniature satellite) successfully deployed the solar sails and re-entered Earth's atmosphere.
You may recognize similar solar sails from science fiction movies like Alien: Covenant and Tron: Legacy. Sith lord Count Dooku also had a solar sailer in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
The Planetary Society said the LightSail 2 is expected to stay in Earth orbit for about a year before burning up while re-entering the atmosphere.
What other people are reading right now:
- 85 people arrested in Hillsborough County human trafficking sting
- Florida deputies were investigating a homicide, and then another body was found
- Ex-teacher accused of having sex with 15-year-old student, sending lingerie photos
- Woman accused of cutting boyfriend with machete, hitting him with yard sign
- Florida boat captain accused of holding passengers hostage due in court
►Make it easy to keep up-to-date with more stories like this. Download the 10News app now.