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Now you can check in on Bill Nye’s solar sail as it orbits Earth

Now you can check in on Bill Nye’s solar sail as it orbits Earth


LightSail 2 just got a new dashboard

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large flat spacecraft flies through space above earth
An artist’s impression of Light Sail 2 in orbit
Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society

A new dashboard will let people track the progress of one of Earth’s most unique satellites from anywhere in the world. The Planetary Society just announced a new website that will constantly display the status of the crowdfunded satellite as it orbits the planet.

LightSail 2 is the successor to LightSail, a spacecraft that launched in 2015 and whose primary mission was to show that a sail could unfurl in space. The team lost communication with the first LightSail a week after it made it to space, then got communication back, then lost it again, then, finally, got a gorgeous picture of the sail unfurled.

LightSail 2 is more ambitious and will actually try to maneuver through space, and even boost itself into different orbits using sunlight. The new mission’s mission control website will let people around the world follow along, including the 23,331 people who contributed to the project’s Kickstarter campaign, which raised $1,241,615 for the spacecraft.

The dashboard or ‘LightSail 2 Mission Control’ will be updated every time the satellite communicates with the ground, and will include information about approximately where the satellite is, how long its been in orbit, its battery charge, how fast its rotating, and the status of its solar sail, among many other data points. (You can also download the latest data if you’re interested.)

Right now, the sail of Light Sail 2 is stowed away in the capsule. But the Planetary Society estimated that about two weeks after the June 24 launch, the sail should unfurl, stretching out to about the size of a boxing ring. When that happens, it’s possible that the satellite will be visible to people on the ground — particularly if it is passing overhead at dusk or dawn.

For the best chance of spotting LightSail 2 for yourself, check back with the new mission control to see when the sail is officially unfurled, and when it will pass over your area.