A team of Cal Poly engineering graduates have successfully completed its first deployment test of a solar sail that will hopefully one day propel tiny satellite probes through space.
For the past 4 1/2 years, the Planetary Society, Cal Poly and other partners have been developing a solar space sail — which unfurls to the size of one side of a tennis court — to be used with CubeSats, the nano-satellite technology that Cal Poly helped create.
Shoebox-sized CubeSats, which measure about 4 inches square by 12 inches long, have been flying into space for more than a decade, hitching rides aboard rockets that carry larger payloads. The LightSail could transform the orbitals into interplanetary space probes propelled by the sun.
On Tuesday night, the team successfully unfurled the sail for the first time at Cal Poly’s Bonderson Engineering Project Center, marking a key milestone for the $4 million project that will launch two LightSail probes, in May 2015 and May 2016.
“It’s a big success for the project,” Doug Stetson, LightSail program director for the Planetary Society, said after the test that was witnessed by about 25 people. “This was a critical test in order for us to get ready for launch.”