A solar sail prototype called the LightSail, built by the Planetary Society, will be one of secondary payloads on an Atlas V rocket set to be launched on Wednesday. The primary payload is one of the US Air Force’s reusble X-37B spaceplanes. The sail is packed into a tiny CubeSat. The sail unfurls from the CubeSat as shown in this Vine:
The LighSail CubeSat will be deployed with 9 other CubeSats. Here is a factsheet about the cubesats on the rocket: Atlas V AFSPC-5ULTRASat CubeSat descriptions (pdf). It includes this nicely made graphic showing how the cubesats are installed and deployed from the Atlas V‘s Centaur upper stage:
Her are some recent posts from the Planetary Society about the project and the launch:
- In Pictures: LightSail’s Rocket Rolls to the Launch Pad
- Timeline: LightSail’s First Day in Space
- What Images Will We Get Back from the LightSail Test Mission?
To watch the launch, which will happen during windows 11:05-11:15 a.m. and 12:42-12:52 p.m. EDT, you can watch the webcasts at:
This prototype will not actually achieve any acceleration from the solar light pressure. The orbit will be so low that the drag from the residual atmosphere will overwhelm the tiny force of solar light. This flight is only to test the deployment mechanism and other systems.
A second LightSail to be flown as a secondary on a launch of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy in 2016 should reach a high enough altitude where the residual atmosphere will be insignificant and light pressure will be able to move the sail.
To support this project, the Planetary Society has a Kickstarter underway at LightSail: A Revolutionary Solar Sailing Spacecraft by Bill Nye, CEO, The Planetary Society — Kickstarter.
The target was $200,000 but they have already reached nearly $600,000 with 37 days to go. So they are shooting for a million dollars and several stretch goals.