Space ahoy! The LightSail 2 space propulsion test project passed a major milestone by deploying a shiny Mylar solar sail on Tuesday. Images released on Wednesday show the sail during and after its glorious unfurling process.
Solar sailing is both futuristic and old-fashioned. Instead of relying on wind like a sailboat, LightSail is pushed by photon particles from the sun bouncing off the large reflective surface of the sail.
The Planetary Society, which is headed up by CEO and science celeb Bill Nye, is running the LightSail 2 project. “All indications are that LightSail 2 has successfully deployed its solar sail,” the group tweeted on Tuesday.
The society followed up with a final confirmation of success.
Lightsail 2 hitched a ride to space on board a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in June. Science stars Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson spearheaded a Kickstarter campaign in 2015 to help fund the mission. It raised over $1.2 million.
The Planetary Society says LightSail 2 “aims to become the first spacecraft in Earth orbit propelled solely by sunlight.” The group wants to demonstrate that solar sailing could be used to as a means of propulsion for CubeSats, tiny, inexpensive satellites that explore and conduct science in space.
If LightSail 2 is a success, it could open the path for more ambitious solar sail missions beyond Earth orbit, all the way to other planets and even other star systems.
Now we just need Katrina & The Waves to rerecord their ’80s hit song as Sailing on Sunshine instead.
Originally published July 23.
Update, July 24, 4:26 p.m. PT: Adds image of Lightsail 2 with its sail deployed.