Recently The Planetary Society announced that by the end of 2010 it will try to launch another spacecraft, LightSail-1, into orbit propelled forward by the pressure of the sunlight. They tried this once four years ago and their spacecraft propelled into the ocean instead of orbit. Failure has not deterred them.
As The Planetary Society explains it, a solar sail "is a spacecraft propelled by sunlight. Whereas a conventional rocket is propelled by the thrust produced by its internal engine burn, a solar sail is pushed forward simply by light from the Sun." Because of the way these solar sails travel, slow at first, but continously picking up speed with increased pressure of sunlight, the mission of this project is to use these solar sails, like the LightSail-1, to accomplish flights that eventually reach speeds as fast as "100,000 mph" leaving the solar system in five years instead of twenty-five, according to a phone interview with Louis D. Friedman, the society's executive director given by John Antczak of the Huffington Post. That would be an extraordinary accomplishment with a tremendous amount of exploration potential.
If The Planetary Society 2010 LightSail-1 launch succeeds, LightSail-2 and LightSail-3 will then be set to sail for farther and much longer missions. The funds needed for these missions, about 1.8 million dollars, will come from anonymously provided funds. For more information about solar sail technology visit The Planetary Society website.
Via Ecogeek and The Huffington Post