SpaceX has successfully launched its Falcon Heavy - world’s most powerful operational launch system, today for the third time at its first-ever night time launch. This SpaceX launch has touched several historic milestones. It was Falcon Heavy’s third flight with its two side boosters re-used for the first time. Along with it, it launched the LightSail 2 – a spacecraft that is powered by sunlight.
CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk called this Falcon Heavy Launch as the “most difficult ever.” The SpaceX launch was as complex as SpaceX expected it to be. The Falcon’s Heavy crashed into the ocean but the two side boosters and returned back to the Earth in one-piece.
The Falcon Heavy launch took along 24 different satellites for the US Air Force’s STP-2 mission into orbit, an atomic clock for NASA, the ashes of 152 people, and the LightSail 2 which was enclosed within the Prox-1 – a Georgia-tech designed spacecraft built to undertake close-encounter operations with other spacecrafts. The Falcon Heavy launch started at 8 pm PT from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The rocket took flight at around 2.30 am PT.
The Falcon Heavy rocket carried in it the NASA-created Deep Space Atomic Clock that is more accurate in keeping time than any space clock developed till now. The space clock is designed to keep time that's accurate to within one-ten-millionth of a second over the span of a year.
Along with the 24 satellites and the Deep Space Atomic Clock included in today's SpaceX launch, the Falcon Heavy transported ashes of 152 people, facilitated by a company called Celestis Memorial Spaceflights, into space. Among the many satellites that ascended to space, seated on the Falcon Heavy, was a new and ground-breaking LightSail 2 created by the Planetary Society.
One of the major impediments that spacecrafts face while journeying in the massive universe is that they cannot carry enough fuel. This hurdle in unfettered interstellar travel is completely eliminated in the LightSail 2. The Prox-1 will deploy LightSail seven days after the Falcon Heavy launch.
The LightSail 2 is the first spacecraft to be depended and powered by sunlight. As a solar sail, LightSail 2 is depended on solar radiation alone. The sail is accelerated by the radiation pressure created by solar photons. The point to note is that the LightSail is not charged by charged particles of the solar wind, like in the case of many solar instruments we have on Earth, but is charged by solar pressure itself. "While light has no mass, it has momentum that can be transferred to other objects," said Jason Davis, a writer for The Planetary Society. Davis’s article mentions more about how the LightSail would work.
Once in the orbit, LightSail 2 will deploy razor-thin sheets of polyester to form a sail that is 32 square meters. The spacecraft will turn its sail toward the sun and receive a "tiny push no stronger than the weight of a paperclip" each time it circles the Earth,” mentioned Davis’s article. If successful, the pressure from the sun’s photons will let the LightSail hover in the universe without depending on anything else.