LightSail is like something out of a science fiction novel. The silvery material unfolds into a space-age version of a fabric sail. Then the sun pushes it forward, using the natural momentum of its photons. The force is small, but continuous."With a chemical rocket, there's a big boom, a phwooosh, the ground shakes, but then nine minutes later you're done and you're coasting all the way to Pluto," Nye said. "With these kind of sails, the propulsion doesn't just stop. It's on day and night -- except wait, there's no night!"
The Mylar sail is being tested as a propulsion source for CubeSat, a tiny spacecraft used for low-cost space experiments. May's test won't push the LightSail-hosting CubeSat out of Earth's gravity, but The Planetary Society hopes to test the mechanisms that would allow a more robust launch to send a solar-powered craft out into space. If the sail deploys correctly, they can move on to funding a full mission.
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