Solar powered rocket to be launched into Earth's orbit today

Solar powered rocket to be launched into Earth's atmosphere

A spacecraft powered by solar energy will be launched into the Earth's orbit today (Wednesday) as part of a flagship project by the Planetary Society.

Known as LightSail, the rocket will be propelled through space using so-called "flight from light", where protons from the sun's rays give the small craft the momentum to move forward.

Its light is absorbed by reflective sails that deploy after take-off. They are roughly the size of a boxing ring and the thickness of a bin bag. A mounted camera will capture the sail's deployment every seven seconds. WORDS: PA.

The launch is expected to take place at about 2.45pm GMT from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The launch will not see the solar-powered facilities of the spacecraft called into action, but will test the sail's deployment mechanism, according to LightSail's Kickstarter page.

LightSail is a citizen-funded project and is the brainchild of the world's largest non-profit space advocacy group, the Planetary Society, which hopes the launch will pave the way for a full solar sailing voyage next year.

More than 11,000 people have financially backed the project online, raising almost £380,000.

Unlike fuel-powered engines, solar energy provides continuous acceleration for the spacecraft which increases in speed over time.

The 32 square metres of sails will be housed on a three-unit CubeSat - a type of satellite about the size of a loaf of bread - which makes up the rocket.

CubeSats have previously had difficulty being launched due to the lack of room for fuel, meaning their previous space expeditions have been limited to ride-alongs on other rockets.

It is believed that CubeSat launches will be a more cost-effective method of space exploration.

Planetary Society chief executive Bill Nye said of the project in March: "I'm naturally happy and excited, but I admit, a bit nervous.

"We've been working to get a solar sail into space since I joined the Planetary Society board in 1997. It's quite a milestone. Deep breath, no turning back now, this baby's on its own now. Here we go."

18 PHOTOS
Commander Chris Hadfield's stunning views from space
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Solar powered rocket to be launched into Earth's orbit today
"Tonight's Finale: The Richat Structure. A giant gazing eye upon the Earth."
"To commemorate the passing of the Iron Lady, in the centre of these London lights is #10 Downing Street."
"The Australian Outback is effortlessly crazily beautiful."
"The effortless natural art of the southern Sahara."
​"The beautiful and violent ugliness inside a naked volcano. Chad, Africa."
"Beijing just after sunset. I'm still trying to spot the Great Wall, but it's hard as it's narrow and dun-colored."
"A heraldic Spring dragon of ice roars rampant off the coast of Newfoundland."
"Canada rocks."
"Dr. Seuss-inspired swirls in the Black Sea."
"Little farmers, big farmers and nature, in Turkey."
"Big storm swirling off the Irish coast on 9th May."
"A sunny day in Scotland"
"To some this may look like a sunset. But it's a new dawn."
"Hope you Bruins play a memorable game tonight vs the Leafs."
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