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Communication restored with LightSail spacecraft

The space advocacy group, the Planetary Society, has restored contact with its solar sail test vehicle, which is currently in orbit around Earth.

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Artist's illustration of the Planetary Society's Lightsail 1 CubeSat.

The Planetary Society

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An innovative tiny satellite designed to test deployment of a solar sail has re-awakened eight days after communications with the spacecraft were lost.

The Planetary Society's digital editor Jason Davis announced on Twitter last night that LightSail had sent two packets of data.

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He wrote: "LIGHTSAIL CONTACT! Cal Poly received two beacon packets today during a pass at 5:21 EDT (21:21 UTC). Initial analysis shows reboot occurred."

The LightSail satellite, a three-unit CubeSat which measures 30 cm by 10 cm by 10cm, was put into orbit on May 20 after hitching a ride aboard the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket that lauched one of the U.S. Air Force's secretive X-37B robotic spaceplanes.

The satellite is owned and operated by The Planetary Society, a non-profit space exploration advocacy group which has funded the mission through member donations and a crowd-funded campaign on Kickstarter.

After the successful launch, the CubeSat communicated as expected, sending back signals every 15 seconds for the first two days of the mission. But then the satellite ran into trouble and communications were lost. Several attempts to re-boot the satellite failed, leaving mission controllers at The Planetary Society with nothing but hope that it would re-start itself.

Though the satellite is now sending data again, The Planetary Society say the cause of the reboot is still unknown. As Sen reported earlier this week, a reboot can be triggered by a charged particle from space striking the electronics. The Society stated on the mission blog that: "LightSail is not out of the woods yet. Its exact position remains fuzzy, complicating two-way communication."

Furthermore, the tiny satellite's spin rate appears to have increased, which could make deployment of the 32-square meter sail more challenging:

"The cause for the tumbling uptick currently unknown, but with the spacecraft's attitude control system offline sail deployment is likely to be a wild ride," wrote Davis.

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"The team wants to initiate sail deployment as soon as possible. A plan of action is still being assembled."

Bill Nye, CEO of The Planetary Society, wrote on the society's web site: "Our LightSail called home! It’s alive! Our LightSail spacecraft has rebooted itself, just as our engineers predicted. Everyone is delighted.

"We were ready for three more weeks of anxiety. In this meantime, the team has coded a software patch ready to upload. After we are confident in the data packets regarding our orbit, we will make decisions about uploading the patch and deploying our sails."

A further mission is planned for 2016 to demonstrate the solar sail, which aims to uses the Sun's light as a method of propulsion.

Related Links:

Privately funded solar sail test flight runs into trouble

Blog: LightSail launch is a success

More on CubeSats

Original story from Sen. © 2015 Sen TV Limited. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. For more space news visit Sen.com and follow @sen on Twitter.