Planetary Society Deploys LightSail 2’s Solar Sail. What Does The Future Hold For Solar Sails?

Planetary Society Deploys LightSail 2’s Solar Sail. What Does The Future Hold For Solar Sails?

where you can travel in space depends on
how much propellant you've got onboard your rocket and how efficiently you can
use it but there's a source of free propellant right here in the solar
system the Sun which is streaming out photons in all directions you just need
to catch them and right now the Planetary Society's new light sail 2
spacecraft is testing out just how well it'll work solar sails are an ingenious
idea that were first thought of by johannes kepler back in the 1600s as he
imagined that sails and ships could be adapted to space travel of course he
didn't fully understand the physics involved yet but with major discoveries
in particle physics and quantum mechanics in the early 20th century
scientists realized that light itself could act like a wind that blows a sail
in space although photons have no mass they can impart momentum when they
bounce off a highly reflective surface this is a light sail it's not very much
but in the vacuum of space there's no air resistance to slow down the sail
with enough photons and enough time a light sail can accelerate to incredibly
high speeds using a chemical rocket you could convert the entire mass of the
observable universe into rocket fuel and you couldn't get a small spacecraft
going faster than 0.2% the speed of light but a light sail can theoretically
take you up to relativistic velocities traveling from star to star in human
lifetime since unlimited free propellant comes from the Sun and huge velocities
are possible why are there solar sails everywhere good question it's a question
that the Planetary Society has been obsessing about for years and they've
launched a solar sail to try to figure out how well they actually work back in
2005 they tried to launch the world's first solar sail cosmos one but rocket
failure destroyed it then they went back to work developing light sail one which
was launched in 2015 and successfully tested their solar sail
deployment in space and finally in 2019 the Planetary Society was ready to
actually try sailing in space on June 25th 2019 a SpaceX Falcon Heavy blasted
off from Florida's Cape Canaveral carrying 24 spacecraft for the US Air
Force's step2 mission this was the third time the Falcon Heavy had been launched
and we were all hoping it would successfully land it's middle stage not
so much that's still on the to-do list but that's how what this video is about
anyway in addition to the mysterious Air Force satellites Falcon Heavy was
carrying the planetary society's light sail to onboard its procs one carrier
spacecraft which are released at an altitude of 720 kilometres then on July
23rd 2019 the spacecraft deployed its solar sail it opened its hinged solar
arrays and then unreeled for tape measure like sail booms reeling out its
four triangular sails deploying 32 square meters of sail area it's
important to note that this spacecraft is tiny with a weight of just 5
kilograms or 11 pounds about the size of a loaf of bread as it orbits around the
earth the spacecraft swings it sails into and out of the sunlight with each
period raising its orbit by a few hundred meters a day that sounds great
unfortunately light sail too doesn't have the control systems on board to
control its angle carefully enough to remain in orbit indefinitely while it's
raising its orbit on one side of the earth by several hundred meters a day it
can't tilt the sails precisely enough to prevent lowering its orbit on the other
side of the planet eventually it'll dip into the Earth's atmosphere and burn up
but hopefully engineers at the Planetary Society will have finally learned how
practical a solar sail can be for space exploration it's still in orbit at the
time I'm recording this video and sending back awesome pictures of our
home planet and I'll put links in the show notes where you can download them
and turn them into your new phone wallpaper thanks to the Planetary
Society we've got their test of a solar sail arthur c clarke would be pleased
but there are some other interesting ideas for solar sails of the future and
i'll get to that in a second but first I'd like to thank Denis Dattilo Ron
Stowe Brian gray the giant nothing and the rest of our 796 patrons for their
generous support they contribute so that you can see these videos and we can make
them freely available to anyone who wants to learn about space join our
community at – universe today and get in on the action with the
Planetary society's light-sealed – sending home data teaching mission
controllers to sail in space these will be valuable lessons for future missions
that might use this technology as an actual method of propulsion one mission
in the works is NASA's near-earth asteroid scout or Nia scout this CubeSat
mission could fly as a secondary payload with the first test of NASA's Space
Launch System the uncrewed em1 mission which could launch as early as June 2020
after deploying from the Orion capsule neoscope would unfurl its solar sails
twice the size of Lights Hill – and then spend two years traveling to a
near-earth asteroid to study it up close we don't know the target yet but a
potential destination might be the near-earth object 1991 VG which was
discovered in 1991 shortly before it passed about the distance from the earth
to the moon away from us and they came back in August 2017 we'll want to keep
an eye on this rock as a potential threat but also as a treasure trove of
metals and minerals that could help support future exploration of the solar
system another mission that could use a solar sail as Japan's oversized kite
craft for exploration and Astronautics in the outer solar system or Okeanos
this would be a mission to the Trojan asteroids which are located at the l4
and l5 Sun Jupiter Lagrange points these are an ideal place to study asteroids
because Jupiter and the Sun's gravity have trapped a large number in one spot
and a mission can easily sample many different asteroids Okeanos would have a
hybrid solar sail covered in solar panels which
all to use to provide electricity for its instruments and ion engine Japan was
one of the first countries to ever test a solar sail with their ocurro's mission
which was deployed in 2010 and eventually gained hundreds of meters a
second of velocity using a solar sail Okeanos might even come with a lander
thanks to their experience with Hayabusa – and asteroid ryugu JAXA has learned a
tremendous amount about landing and collecting samples from tiny asteroids
if all goes well okay uh notes we'll launch in the mid-2020s onboard an h2 a
launch vehicle using several gravity assists to make the journey out to
Jupiter and if the mission is really successful it might even bring a sample
of a Trojan asteroid home NASA is even considering adding a solar sail to the
deep-space lunar gateway at a special planning event for the deep-space
gateway in 2017 members from the Canadian Space Agency presented the
concept of a solar sail that could be added to the station the ongoing light
from the Sun would provide a constant thrust that the station could use to
maintain its orbit without propulsion held out on a Canadian robotic arm what
else a 50 square meter solar sail could save the station nine kilograms of
hydrazine a year which is expensive to carry up from the earth to the moon one
mission that you're probably familiar with is the breakthrough starshot
concept instead of using light from the Sun as propulsion breakthrough starshot
hopes to use powerful lasers which will accelerate tiny satellites to
interstellar velocities these could be the first spacecraft that ever sent home
images from another star system and we've done a whole episode on this and
another heavier laser sail mission called Project dragonfly and I'll put
links to these episodes in the show notes
unfortunately it's taken longer for space agencies to incorporate solar
sails into their missions than I would have hoped it's understandable they're
complicated and fragile and require precise orientation it makes sense that
mission planners would use tried-and-true chemical rockets or
efficient ion engines to propel their spacecraft across the solar system but
as more and more solar sails are launched and tested engineers will
become more confident at the best ways to use them
as part of a mission I can imagine future when almost every
mission has a backup solar sail onboard just in case something goes wrong with
the main engine I've always been fascinated by the possibility of solar
sailing and I've watched each discovery and step forward with excitement
I'm really glad the Planetary Society has made it this far with their tests
they did the entire mission for 7 million dollars
funded by Planetary Society members private citizens and a Kickstarter
campaign so if you want to support this in future missions to help explore the
solar system go to Planetary org and find out more what do you think limitary
thoughts in the comments once a week I gather up all my space news into a
single email newsletter and send it out it's got pictures brief highlights about
the story and links that you can find out more go to University datacom slash
newsletter to sign up and did you know that all of my videos are also available
in a handy audio podcast format so that you can have the latest episodes as well
as special bonus material like interviews with me show right on your
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show notes and finally here's a playlist

45 thoughts on “Planetary Society Deploys LightSail 2’s Solar Sail. What Does The Future Hold For Solar Sails?

  1. The number 1 problem with solar sails is not their very low acceleration, but the nonexistant deceleration. Its always going to be a one-way crash mission cos there is no way to "sail" back home. You cant just turn around the sail. Maybe they carry extra propellant for the journey home, or beam back their data, or do complicated gravity assists. However, gravity assist methods take a long time and will still not be enough to get the craft home. The solar energy also gets exponentially weaker the further you get away from the Sun, so you would need bigger and bigger sails the further you want to travel. They might be ideal for Voyager type missions, but not for boosting SLS or ISS, cos they will need gigantic solar sails whose weight will be more than just using propellants. Just my few thoughts people, Im not trying to throw shade at the sails lol 🙂

  2. For deploying a large low mass/area mirror in space I came up with inflation insituform in which the structure is made of materials that either harden or degrade on exposure to UV. It can take launch forces and then inflate and harden while shedding parts needed only for launch protection and inflation. Would be perhaps useful for solar sails. Obviously the problems with the James Webb drive me crazy.

  3. If you want to know who is going to be on a manned mission to physically unfurl a solar sail then check out this photo: #2pac

  4. to set the context, let's say some thing or assembly of things were traveling straight towards earth either faster than light or through a wormhole as to expedite its distance to us faster than light. if we were to be observing it with a telescope the entire time what would we see? would it look as though its relative time was at some astronomically multiple of our percievied time when moving faster than the speed of light? would it appear to teleport in time had it gone through a wormhole since it's now in front of the light of the "past"? would we then see it in the "past" after it arrives to earth? I appreciate the consideration of response and moreso an actual response if you see this. ♥

  5. I don't understand. Photons and charged particles from the sun radiate out in a straight line directly away from the sun and they don't "bounce" off a solar sail like the wind does on a watercraft. This means you can't "tack" like a sailboat does on the sea. I'm thinking that re orienting the "sail" on the spacecraft will only change the speed of the spacecraft, not cause it to change course. What am I not seeing?

  6. This topic is really interesting. I’m impatient to seeing what the final results will be for this spacecraft.

  7. I think we should deploy more into Moon's research , our moon and other planets Moons which possibly can support some form life like Europa etc. Our Moon can be efficient base to launch .

  8. Asteroids/Moons will be very useful in future to build satellites , equipments , machines , probes in space itself so that we don't have to carry much in space from earth altogether and It'll soon happen I believe .

  9. For me , Solar Sails will take time to become effective but i like both Sun and Laser acceleration used for acceleration .

  10. Solar sails are one of those concepts that is so awesome, it's almost inevitable that it will be a thing one day.

  11. Hi Fraser, a question about the moon: Which of these images is an accurate representation of viewing the Earth when you're standing on the moon? Image 1: Or image2: Thanks.

  12. Anton from what da math just talked about a paper which suggests that theia may have deposited all of our water when it impacted and created the Moon. The paper suggests that the object was 10% the size of Earth but the Earth is 70% water. That math doesn't seem to be adding up to me

  13. Hey Fraser I have a question . How large are the LaGrange points? The stable area of it has to be much larger than a literal point. I believe you said points 4 and 5 are the most stable, if you put an object near the edge of one of the LaGrange points but still Within, will it still be stable? Also, how great was the Mass Effect Trilogy? Pretty dang great I would say.

  14. If a sample of an asteroid or Mars were returned to Earth and found to have life on it, and it was proven that it wasn't just contamination, would we have to return the sample back to its homeworld? How will we deal with alien bacteria should they be discovered?

  15. 1:09 Is space truly a vacuum, nothing at all? With all the area this sweeps as it goes faster & faster what is the drag?

  16. Hey Fraser, love the videos, I have a question: if space is bone chillingly cold, how does hot gas like from a planetary nebula stay at such high temps? You would think just being in cold space would cool it off fairly quickly.

  17. Was waiting for IKAROS to come up. With all due respect to the planetary society they're late to this party

  18. thanks Fraser. space travel is useless for interstellar travel unless you have an infinite source of continual power. dimensional travel is the only way to circumvent this problem of not having to waste your power on traveling the distance. hyperspace research. traveling the distance will just jeopardize the crew via relativity. hey good luck. it's still worth the ponder.

  19. Hey Fraser, can you do an episode on dipole sails ?

  20. what do you think of this as the most realistic interstellar craft we can build using current technology…. Very large solar Sail Craft, with a living space that has a large rotating section or sections. powered by a powerful reactor.

  21. Can solar sails work off reflected light (ie, the moon) or, say, Jupiter? Or does only the sun put out enough particles for the solar sail?

  22. Since ion engines work on compounding thrust, and solar sails work on compounding thrust, could they be used together for missions to achieve higher velocities, or am I misunderstanding something?

  23. Building up a lot of speed is great, but what would keep me awake at night while i travel on a ship making use of sails from star to star is the thought of the solar resistance met upon arrival at the destination not being sufficient to provide enough deceleration.

  24. Fraser, love your videos. If space is a vacuum and no air resistance why do we need to make sure a space craft has sufficient thrust for extended periods of time? Wouldn’t just one “push” at the beginning send it on its way forever (theoretically) ? Thanks!

  25. Wow, the fact that they were able to send anything into orbit for 7 million dollars is an amazing feat itself.. I didn't pay attention at the beginning, were they piggybacking on another mission or was it 7 million total?

  26. Has anyone managed to see the LightSail 2 from Earth? Any tips on how to spot it in the night sky? You would think that with such a big surface area it would be quite visible. (Note: I'm just an amateur enthusiast with some decent binoculars…)

    PS: Such a cool experiment. Go Planetary Society, Go LightSail!

  27. Unfortunately natural sun light is probably not strong enough for solar sail to be a realistic option, on top of that, the further the sails travel from the sun, the fewer acceleration it gets.
    If we can make a space laser array in future, solar sails maybe the fast lane for inter stellar travel

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