Space

Solar sail mission launches with X-37B spaceplane

Solar sail mission launches wi...
Artist's concept of LightSail
Artist's concept of LightSail
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The LightSail CubeSat being tested
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The LightSail CubeSat being tested
Artist's concept of LightSail
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Artist's concept of LightSail
The Atlas V carried the X-37B and other payloads
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The Atlas V carried the X-37B and other payloads
The Atlas V lifting off
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The Atlas V lifting off
The Atlas V awaiting launch
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The Atlas V awaiting launch
The Atlas V out of assembly
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The Atlas V out of assembly
The combined payload on its crane
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The combined payload on its crane
The combined payload being mated to the launcher
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The combined payload being mated to the launcher
The combined payload being moved into position
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The combined payload being moved into position
The combined payload being lifted
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The combined payload being lifted
The Atlas V assembed
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The Atlas V assembed
The Atlas V launcher being assembled
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The Atlas V launcher being assembled

An odd pair lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station today as the Planetary Society's LightSail nanosatellite piggybacked a ride atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket alongside the US Air Force's secret X-37B spaceplane.

The light-propelled LightSail is a CubeSat about the size of a loaf of bread, which 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 on the same principle as a sail boat catches the wind.

LightSail won't actually be propelled by the Sun, but it will test systems for future missions, such as deploying its 32 sq m (344 sq ft) "sail."

The launch was part of NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative, which finds room for small satellites as auxiliary payloads on planned missions. In this case the LightSail CubeSat was bundled as part of the National Reconnaissance Office’s (NRO) Ultra Lightweight Technology and Research Auxiliary Satellite (ULTRASat), which contains ten CubeSats managed by the NRO and NASA.

The LightSail CubeSat being tested
The LightSail CubeSat being tested

The main purpose of the launch was to send up the Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-4) mission. The highly classified spaceplane will orbit the Earth for over 200 days and will carry an experimental NASA ion thruster as well as the space agency’s Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space (METIS) package designed to test long-term exposure of various materials.

In addition, the launch included the Air Force Space Command 5 (AFSPC-5) satellite.

The Planetary Society plans to launch a fully operational LightSail demonstrator in 2016.

The video below shows highlights of the launch.

Sources: NASA, ULA

Atlas V AFSPC-5 Launch Highlights

3 comments
BuddyLortie
Even before Bill Nye, the Science Guy -- or even Carl Sagan, the Aerosol Guy -- began championing the cause of the Lightsail, we had Lee Falk, the PHANTOM guy, for reasons unknown, having that well-known physicist, MANDRAKE THE MAGICIAN, explain the concept to his readers over their Sunday morning coffee. And in straight science cartoons, there was Otto Binder and Murphy Anderson on November 25, 1960; and Athelstan Spilhaus and Gene Fawcett on October 8, 1967! See my http://thebookstork.wikispaces.com/Solar+Sails for all 3 strips [better scans and text are coming] Seriously, guys -- you want a Nobel Prize and get all the hot babes? Start reading the comics! :)
Douglas Bennett Rogers
What is new is the deployment of a dedicated sail with an ongoing program for application.
Magrim
Star Trek Deep Space 9