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Solar Spacecraft? Lightsail 2 Sets Sail in Space Powered Only by Sunlight

The spaceship's four triangular sails resemble sails of water-skimming ships and merge to form one giant sail.

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Updated:July 26, 2019, 4:43 PM IST
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Solar Spacecraft? Lightsail 2 Sets Sail in Space Powered Only by Sunlight
The spaceship's four triangular sails resemble sails of water-skimming ships and merge to form one giant sail.
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July 23 saw an entirely new type of ship sailing in space. An experimental spacecraft, called LightSail 2, launched into space successfully unfurled its 344-square-foot solar sail in orbit.

Turns out, the sail allows LightSail 2 to harness the power of the sun, thus effectively making it the first-ever spacecraft propelled solely by sunlight.

Taking to Twitter, Planetary Society, the group behind LightSail 2 tweeted about the achievement.

Notably, according to a report published by Popular Mechanics, LightSail 2 is a tiny satellite that has enabled low level space exploration to the point that it can be successfully crowdfunded. Launched into space on a SpaceX rocket, the spacecraft, powered by the sun, is flying in a circular orbit of around 720 kilometres around the Earth.

The LightSail 2 weighs only 11 pounds and the power comes from its mylar sail, which expands into an area of 344 square feet. Turns out, the LightSail 2 captures the slow-but-steady photons released from the Sun and is flying in space taking advantage of the zero-gravity environment and very limited friction found in space. It is continuously pushed through space by the pressure of sunlight. As the light reflects off the sail, it transfers momentum to the sail, propelling the spaceship forward. This is because solar photons have no mass, but they have momentum and as they reflect off the solar sail, some of that momentum is transferred and creates thrust.

The spaceship's four triangular sails resemble sails of water-skimming ships and merge to form one giant sail, the size of a boxing ring, according to Business Insider, who added that it is made of Mylar, a tear-resistant fabric, thinner than human hair.

According to the Planetary Society website, sail deployment marks a major milestone for the LightSail 2 mission, which aims to demonstrate solar sailing as a viable method of propulsion for small, standardized satellites that have lowered the cost of space exploration. Planetary Society further says that solar-sail technology could eventually allow researchers on Earth to harness the sun's rays to send spaceships' zooming in any direction.

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