The LightSail solar sail has disintegrated in a final blaze of glory. Completing its test mission in style, the prototype CubeSat burnt up in the atmosphere on Sunday afternoon as it fell back towards Earth.
But don't despair, it was never destined to last. It's the global teaser for a full-fledged flight demonstration in 2016.
The solar sail stayed in low orbit around the Earth for 25 days, and orbital models show that reentry likely occurred around 1:23 pm EDT (give or take 10 minutes). It burned up somewhere near the South Atlantic Ocean.
The last few weeks have been a rollercoaster ride of stress and success for the LightSail team. The onboard computer crashed shortly after launch due to a software glitch, but after a lot of nail-biting, the Earthbound team managed to reset the computer. Phew!
But that wasn't the end of their grief—a few days later, the LightSail had a strop and wouldn't communicate with anyone due to battery issues.
Despite these setbacks, on June 9, 2015, the LightSail team declared the mission a success. The sail successfully deployed, and even sent a selfie down to prove it.
LightSail after it was successfully deployed. The Planetary Society.
The LightSail's last messages back to Earth were the robot equivalent of "LALALALALA" since scientists could only interpret it as unintelligible garble. Scientists had hoped to receive image files, but instead it sent home one, continuous, unending stream of data that was completely unusable.
Even though some moments of the test made scientists want to tear their hair out, the mission was a fruitful endeavor. Scientists have gathered a lot of data and are eager to improve the LightSail, ready for another launch next year.
The quest for flight by light continues.
[Via The Planetary Society]