The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 is a crowdfunded solar sail initiated on June 25, 2019. It was predicted to last a year in an inspection of how well a spacecraft could operate utilizing only the sun’s power.
Currently tripling that expectation, the spacecraft continues to work well but is in combat with atmospheric drag. According to a Planetary Society update, molecules of the Earth’s atmosphere are gradually pulling the spacecraft back to our planet, with re-entry predicted in perhaps a few months.
“We have continued to work to learn more and sail more efficiently as part of its extended mission including its second year in orbit as well as this last year, its third year,” Bruce Betts, the mission’s project manager, wrote on the Planetary Society’s website on Friday, June 24.
“We developed techniques to calibrate the gyros on orbit, and updated the onboard flight software to enable corrections to the gyro bias parameters. The update improved our sail control, thus improving our solar sailing.”
The change enabled the altitude to rise by 328 feet per day for a few months, but today the average altitude is approximately 390 miles.