Skip to main content

Track Bill Nye’s LightSail 2 solar spaceship in real time as it makes history

LightSail
The Planetary Society

The LightSail 2 solar-powered spacecraft is officially operational — it’s now in orbit and made its first contact with Earth on Tuesday. You’ll now be able to track the ship live using an online dashboard.

The LightSail 2 is the result of a $1 million Kickstarter campaign organized and led by Bill Nye’s non-profit Planetary Society. In an interview with Digital Trends before the ship’s June launch, Nye said that the main objective of the mission is to get the spacecraft to orbit around the Earth using sunlight as its fuel source, demonstrating the viability of “solar sailing.”

The idea is that if the LightSail 2 is successful, the technology could help make it possible to traveler further and deeper into space at a lower cost than is possible today.

The Planetary Society launched a similar spacecraft in 2015, which proved the solar sailing concept could work. That vessel took some pictures of its surroundings but remained at a low enough altitude that it was subject to atmospheric drag. The LightSail 2 is capable of going higher into orbit than its predecessor, reducing that drag.

The LightSail 2 hitched a ride into space last week aboard Space X’s Falcon Heavy rocket. As planned, it delivered its first signals back to mission control at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California on Tuesday.  Those first signals included health and status data as well as a Morse code beacon indicating the vessel’s call sign.

If you want to keep track of the spacecraft, the Planetary Society has also launched a new mission control dashboard for the vessel. With it, anyone can access the most up-to-date information about the spacecraft during its journey including information about how long the LightSail 2 has been on its mission, what the temperature is inside the spacecraft, and whether or not its solar sail is deployed. The dashboard will also allow you to find the vessel’s current location and find out if it will be passing overhead.

“The Georgia Tech Prox-1 spacecraft did its job perfectly, delivering LightSail 2 to the desired orbit for solar sailing,” LightSail 2 project manager Dave Spencer said in a statement.  “Receiving the initial radio signal from LightSail 2 is an important milestone, and the flight team is excited to begin mission operations.”  

The LightSail 2 is expected to remain in orbit for roughly the next year.

Editors' Recommendations

Emily Price
Emily is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Her book "Productivity Hacks: 500+ Easy Ways to Accomplish More at…
Voyager 1 probe has nine lives, is operating its four instruments once again
An artist’s concept of the Voyager spacecraft.

An artist’s concept of the Voyager spacecraft. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Having suffered through a tricky glitch, the incredible Voyager 1 spacecraft is now operational once again, with data coming in from all four of its current scientific instruments. The spacecraft is nearly 50 years old, having launched in 1977, and has long since traveled beyond the orbit of Pluto and out into interstellar space.

Read more
Watch the Starliner spacecraft star in its own aurora video
Boeing's Starliner capsule docked at the ISS.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner launched successfully atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on June 5, safely delivering NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore to the International Space Station (ISS) the following day.

The Starliner, on its first crewed flight to orbit, was originally scheduled for a stay lasting just over a week. But in recent days, NASA announced the spacecraft would stay at the ISS until June 22 to finalize departure planning and operations, and also to carry out engine tests to evaluate the performance of thrusters, some of which played up during the Starliner’s final approach to the ISS on June 6.

Read more
Satellite snaps remarkable image of a huge piece of space junk
A depiction of space junk in low-Earth orbit.

The space junk photographed by Astroscale's satellite shows the upper stage of a rocket that's been orbiting Earth for the last 15 years. Astroscale

Orbital debris removal company Astroscale has shared a remarkable image captured by the Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan (ADRAS-J) satellite.

Read more