SpaceX launched its Falcon Heavy rocket into the sky overnight in which CEO Elon Musk called the “most difficult launch” his rocket company has ever attempted.The rocket took off at 2:30 am ET Tuesday from a launch pad in Florida, carrying a cargo made up of a number of payloads from commercial customers, as well as from the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA.
24 experimental satellites were placed into space along three different orbital paths which were expected to take hours and require difficult maneuvering. Just shortly after the launch, officials began confirming successful deployments of some of the satellites destined for lower orbits.
The Falcon Heavy also carried LightSail 2, a crowdfunded spacecraft spearheaded by Bill Nye’s Planetary Society, as TechCrunch reports, which will travel through space by using solar wind beneath its large sail. While many satellites are equipped with solar panels that convert the sun’s energy to electricity and power on-board computers, the solar sail aims to use actual light particles, called photons, as an endless source of fuel.
“While light has no mass, it has momentum that can be transferred to other objects,” according to Jason Davis, a writer for The Planetary Society. “A solar sail harnesses this momentum for propulsion.”
LightSail 2 will deploy razor-thin sheets of polyester to form a 32 square-meter sail that will turn its sail towards the sun to receive a “tiny push no stronger than the weight of a paperclip” each time it circles the Earth, Davis wrote in a blog post. If all goes successful, the photons from the sun should gradually push the spacecraft deeper into space, without the use of thrusters or heavy fuels that other satellites tend to rely on.
“Forty years ago, my professor Carl Sagan shared his dream of using solar sail spacecraft to explore the cosmos,” Nye said in a statement. “The Planetary Society is realizing the dream.”
Another satellite will test new telescope technologies, while a third, owned by NASA features a futuristic atomic clock. “The payload will be operated for at least a year to demonstrate its functionality and utility for one-way-based navigation,” NASA said regarding its DSAC.