After initial setbacks, Bill Nye and the Planetary Society's LightSail prototype deployed its sails, helping open the door to fuel-less spacecraft propulsion.
Bill Nye never stopped at making science cool for our childhood selves - he's still advancing the field in amazing ways. One of the best examples is the LightSail. Based on a concept championed by Carl Sagan, the LightSail is a satellite that deploys Mylar sails, which would let the spacecraft be propelled by sunlight alone. Sadly its prototype suffered several setbacks after launch, the most notable of which was a software glitch preventing Earth-bound communications. The good news is the Lightsail finally deployed its sails yesterday, which lets Bill Nye's Planetary Society prepare for its primary mission in Fall of 2016.
The LightSail prototype originally launched on May 20, where it immediately faced problems. First there was a software glitch that cut off all contact with Earth, forcing researchers to wait for some charged particle to cause a system reboot. Once that finally happened, the sails themselves wouldn't actually unfurl. While the original plan was to wait 28 days for the LightSail to orbit Earth, these delays prompted the researchers to deploy the sails at the earliest opportunity - which according to Bill Nye's Twitter feed, happened sometime yesterday.
Motor is running! Sail is Deploying!!! 39 Years after Prof. Sagan spoke of it!— Bill Nye (@BillNye) June 7, 2015
Once completed, the final LightSail satellite will be a small spacecraft - no bigger than a breadbox - containing 32 square meters of Mylar sails. With each sail being roughly 4.5 microns thick, the Mylar is thin enough that the momentum of light should be enough to propel it through space. If successful, the LightSail can be used to power small research craft without a fuel source, and perhaps larger vessels shortly after.
The initiative is being developed by the Planetary Society, of which Bill Nye is CEO. Naturally, a significant portion of its funding will come from Kickstarter backers, thanks to a campaign that raised over $800,000 over the past two months. If you're looking to contribute yourself, the campaign runs for another 17 days - because who doesn't want to tell everyone they're actively funding space travel?
Source: Washington Post