LightSail probe back on line

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After an early hiccup in its mission, the Lightsail technology demonstrator is back in business (Credit: The Planetary Society)

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The Planetary Society's LightSail CubeSat has phoned home. After being "paused" a over a week ago due to a software error, the Society reports that the solar sail technology demonstrator has now rebooted itself.

Launched on May 20, LightSail, which is about the size of a loaf of bread, ceased transmitting on May 22 due to what engineers believe is a design flaw in the avionics software that caused a file to overload itself and crash the computer. The Planetary Society gave no reason for the reboot, but it's likely that it was caused by cosmic rays striking the electronics, which often makes satellite computers restart themselves.

"Our LightSail spacecraft has rebooted itself, just as our engineers predicted. Everyone is delighted," says Bill Nye, CEO of the Planetary Society. "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 those decisions 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."

The LightSail was built by the nonprofit Planetary Society as a technology demonstrator for a non-rocket propulsion system that uses a Mylar sail to turn the light of the Sun into thrust in a similar way to a sail boat catching the wind.

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