Bill Nye’s LightSail Spacecraft Has Rebooted Itself and Reestablished Contact With Earth!
And not like Contact, where it just turns out to be your dad.
Bill Nye and The Planetary Society recently realized their dream of launching their kickstarted spacecraft that sails on photons from the sun like a sailboat and wind, but the tiny satellite lost communication with the ground, likely due to a software glitch. After some very tense waiting, it’s rebooted itself and phoned home again!
LightSail’s crew originally tried to reboot it manually, but when that failed, their only choice was to wait and hope for an automatic reboot. That only occurs if LightSail happens to run into some random charged particles, so the reestablished communication was a happy surprise for the team.
A little nuclei, maybe from a supernova, just travelled hundreds of millions of years to help us out and restart the computer on #LightSail.
— Casey Dreier (@CaseyDreier) May 30, 2015
(Casey Dreier is Director of Advocacy for The Planetary Society.)
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.
However, the civilian-funded little spacecraft that could isn’t quite home free yet. The Planetary Society reports after the spacecraft’s telltale radio chirp was picked up, Georgia Tech professor David Spencer, LightSail’s mission manager, said:
Based upon the on-board timers contained within the beacon (and comparing them to beacons following deployment), it appears that a reboot occurred within the past day. Due to uncertainty in the orbit state (TLEs), our ability to reliably track the spacecraft is marginal at this point. Cal Poly is coordinating with international colleagues to arrange their support in acquiring beacon telemetry.
So they’re still working to establish LightSail’s position and the state of its orbit, but the fact that it rebooted at all is encouraging. LightSail’s eventual goal is a low-cost way to open up space to a broader range of civilian projects, and when this test flight gets back on track, we’ll be one step closer to Carl Sagan’s dream of sailing the solar system on light.
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