Solar Sail Mission Revived with Anonymous Donation

by

The Planetary Society announced Nov. 9 plans to build a solar sail craft by the end of 2010, thanks to a $1 million anonymous donation made to the Pasadena, Calif.-based organization to reignite the project.

“This was an enabling donation, there’s no doubt,” said Bruce Betts, Planetary Society director of projects. “We’ve been continuing to think and do studies, but we didn’t have the funding in place to embark on this project. Now we do.”

The Planetary Society aims to launch a spacecraft called LightSail-1 to an orbit of about 800 kilometers above Earth to demonstrate that energy from sunlight alone can propel a craft through space.

The recent donation reinvigorates the Planetary Society’s solar sail hopes, which were dashed in 2005 when the Russian Volna rocket carrying its first solar sail prototype, Cosmos 1, failed to reach orbit.

Betts said the donation provided about half the necessary funds to build LightSail-1, but the project would take about $2 million total. The Planetary Society is soliciting contributions from other supporters to make up the difference.

LightSail-1 will be made up of three cubesat spacecraft. One cubesat will house its central electronics and control modules and two additional cubesats will house the solar sail, which will be made from 32 square meters of mylar fabric.

Launch vehicle possibilities for the mission include U.S. Atlas 5, Minotaur and Falcon rockets, and Russian Cosmos 3M and Soyuz-Fregat rockets, according to the Planetary Society.