The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 CubeSat, launched on June 25, will transmit Morse code from space. LightSail is a citizen-funded project to send a small spacecraft, propelled solely by sunlight, into Earth’s orbit. The innovative satellite is due to be deployed on July 2 from Prox-1, a Georgia Tech student-built spacecraft the size of a small washing machine. Once deployed, LightSail 2 will automatically transmit a beacon packet every few seconds, which can be decoded into 238 lines of text telemetry describing the spacecraft’s health and status, including everything from battery status to solar sail deployment motor state. Every 45 seconds, the spacecraft will transmit “LS2” on the spacecraft’s frequency of 437.025 MHz, within the Amateur Radio 70-centimeter band.
LightSail 2 lifted off from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, carried by the SpaceX triple-booster Falcon Heavy rocket. The launcher also carried aloft two dozen spacecraft for the US Air Force STP-2 mission. Launch had been set to occur late on June 24, but SpaceX delayed the liftoff to make additional ground system checks.
“During its ride to orbit, LightSail 2 was tucked safely inside its Prox-1 carrier spacecraft,” The Planetary Society said post-launch. “The Falcon Heavy upper stage’s payload stack released Prox-1 about an hour and 20 minutes after liftoff, at an altitude of roughly 720 kilometers (446 miles). Prox-1 will house LightSail 2 for one week, allowing time for other vehicles released into the same orbit to drift apart so each can be identified individually.”
Bruce Betts, Planetary Society chief scientist and LightSail 2 program manager, said, “After years of hard work, we are ecstatic with the launch and looking forward to doing some solar sailing.” Some 500 Planetary Society members and supporters were on hand at the Kennedy Space Center Apollo-Saturn V Center to watch their crowdfunded spacecraft take flight.
LightSail 2 team members will soon converge at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California, where the spacecraft’s mission control is located. Once LightSail 2 is released from Prox-1, the team will spend several days checking out its systems before commanding its dual-sided solar panels to deploy. Following that, the spacecraft’s solar sails will be deployed in approximately 2 weeks.
Two US Naval Academy student-built satellites carrying Amateur Radio payloads were on the launch. BRICSat-2 (call sign USNAP1) will function as a 1.2/9.6 k APRS digipeater on 145.825 MHz. Telemetry will be transmitted on 437.975 MHz. PSAT-2 also will operate on 145.825 MHz with APRS to voice and DTMF to voice/APRS, and it will carry a 28.120 MHz up/435.350 MHz down PSK31 transponder. An SSTV camera will transmit on the same downlink. — Thanks to The Planetary Society, Bob Bruninga, WB4APR, and AMSAT News Service
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