Bill Nye’s LightSail Spacecraft Reboots, ‘Calls Home’

Launched on May 20, the LightSail fell silent just days after reaching orbit.

Over a week after it lost contact with Earth, the Planetary Society’s LightSail spacecraft has rebooted itself in orbit, re-establishing contact with controllers on the ground.

LightSail, a cube satellite about the size of a shoebox that was designed by Bill Nye’s Planetary Society to develop Carl Sagan’s concept of a solar sail, was lifted into orbit on May 20 atop an Atlas V rocket, which also carried the Air Force’s X-37B space plane. As the Inquisitr previously reported, the LightSail went silent just two days after launch, experiencing a software glitch that froze its main avionics board.

Unable to reboot LightSail from the ground, controllers were forced to wait for the spacecraft to reboot itself, a process that can occur if a highly charged particle from deep space strikes the satellite in the proper manner. According to the Verge, a statement released by the Planetary Society revealed that such a reboot was exactly what ended up taking place.

“Our LightSail called home! It’s alive! Our LightSail spacecraft has rebooted itself, just as our engineers predicted. Everyone is delighted. We were ready for three more weeks of anxiety. In this meantime, the team has coded a software patch ready to upload. After we are confident in the data packets regarding our orbit, we will make decisions about uploading the patch and deploying our sails — and we’ll make those decisions very soon. This has been a rollercoaster for us down here on Earth, all the while our capable little spacecraft has been on orbit going about its business. In the coming two days, we will have more news, and I am hopeful now that it will be very good.”

As NPR points out, the LightSail utilizes the force of trillions of massless protons that make up light in order to generate thrust. Though each individual proton is tiny, their collective action is enough to propel the LightSail and anything attached to the solar sail forward.

Though the concept behind LightSail has been tested before in space, the Planetary Society hopes that the current mission will develop the technology further. In 2016, they hope to launch another satellite into a higher orbit, setting the stage for even more ambitious solar-powered voyages.

The primary goal of the current flight is to test deployment procedures for LightSail’s solar sail, which will likely be done ahead of schedule following the successful reboot.

[Image: Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society via the Verge]