LightSail Launch Event

Richard ChuteMay 21, 2019

LightSail Launch Event

Preliminary Plans

LightSail 2’s launch window opens on June 22, and we are finalizing plans for our launch viewing celebrations. Once we have finished coordinating the details with the Air Force’s STP-2 mission team and the Kennedy Space Center, we will share them with all of our members and backers so that you can join us in person or remotely via the internet.

In the meantime, we want to share with you an outline of what we hope to offer. Below, you’ll find our plans to view the launch from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center and also information on how to view the launch at home.

LightSail Launch Event

Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society

LightSail 2

Artist’s concept of LightSail 2 above Earth.

Risks

Rocket launches are difficult to predict. Equipment issues, payload issues, weather, and other factors all play into the day and timing of the launch and, as a result, launch dates commonly change. Rocket launches are announced as being “no earlier than” (NET) a particular date, and often occur later. Our launch is set for NET June 22. It is possible that it may actually launch that day. It is also quite possible that it won’t. For that reason, anyone planning to join us should have flexible travel. For instance, airfares should include options to change days of travel, and you’ll have to closely manage hotel reservations to be sure that you can cancel or update dates. Expert tip: book accommodations as early as possible since this launch is going to be a very popular one, and hotel rooms are likely to be in short supply.

There is also a risk that we will miss the launch altogether. If the launch is scrubbed late for significant issues and delayed by a number of days, we may travel to Florida only to leave without having seen the launch and without the ability in our schedules (or pocketbooks!) to return for the actual launch days or weeks later. For that reason, it’s important to view the launch celebrations as an opportunity to gather with many other space enthusiasts, to learn more about the mission directly from those running it, to visit Kennedy Space Center, and to celebrate together. The launch is the icing on the cake. Even if we leave without seeing the launch, our later remote viewing experience will be enhanced by our time together.

Rewards!

Rocket launches are remarkably exciting events! If you decide to join us in Florida, you will witness the launch of what is currently the world’s most powerful rocket—the SpaceX Falcon Heavy. And, as it soars aloft, you’ll have a direct connection with this mission since it will be carrying LightSail 2. As a member or backer, you’ll have a real stake in the success of the launch on subsequent flight operations.

LightSail Launch Event

Photo and animation by Ryan Chylinski (@sciencetripper) / courtesy of Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket

An animated closeup of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket which launched on February 6, 2018 from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL from the historic launchpad, 39A.

Keeping in mind that our plans may change as we obtain new information, we are happy to share our preliminary event plans:

1 day before launch

  • Mission briefing for Planetary Society members and backers from Program Manager and Chief Scientist Bruce Betts; CEO Bill Nye; and members of the engineering team responsible for LightSail 2. The panel will provide a briefing on the LightSail 2 mission and solar sailing. This will be in the late afternoon and will run for about 60 to 90 minutes.
  • At the mission briefing, we will also have a pop-up store with Planetary Society swag (t-shirts, mission patches and stickers, and much more) provided by our retail partners, Yugen Tribe and Chop Shop.
  • A gala reception and dinner. We will host a fundraising reception and dinner under the Shuttle Atlantis. Funds raised will help support launch and operations costs and will be several hundred dollars per ticket. If you are a Kickstarter backer and backed us at the “Party at the Launch” level, then this is already included. Note: sponsorships are available for the gala dinner; contact me for more information at [email protected].
  • Member and backer meet-up dinners. For those who prefer not to attend the gala dinner, we will organize meet-up style opportunities for members and backers to gather at restaurants in the area with Planetary Society staff on hand to share more about the Society and the LightSail mission.
  • Although details are scarce at this point, Kickstarter is also looking at sponsoring something like a stargazing party either the evening before or after the launch.

Day of launch

  • Members and backers will attend the launch at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center (KSC VC). There will be different ticket packages offered by KSC VC at various price levels. You will select a ticket level and purchase it from either us (for the best viewing location at the Saturn V Center) or from KSC VC for other ticket packages.
    • The best tickets for the Saturn V Center are expected to sell out in less than 24 hours. For that reason, we will manage our own Planetary Society ticket block for the Saturn V Center. We will have several hundred tickets available just for Society members and backers.
    • If you were a “Party at the Launch” backer, then the highest-level ticket is already included.
    • If you prefer not to spend on tickets at KSC VC, it will also be possible to see the launch from free, public locations such as parks in the area.
  • After the launch, members and backers with tickets to KSC VC will be able to enjoy the Visitor Center and its exhibits for the rest of the day. During this time, we will also keep participants informed (likely via email) about the successful deployment of our spacecraft from the Falcon Heavy some hours after launch.
  • That evening, we will share information for informal member and backer meet-up launch after-parties so that people can gather to celebrate in restaurants in the area. These will be our last planned group activities.
LightSail Launch Event

MaryLiz Bender

Falcon Heavy launch viewing site

Kennedy Space Center’s Saturn V building offers a great view of Pad 39-A, where we watched the SpaceX Falcon Heavy demo launch on February 6, 2018.

If it doesn’t launch on the first day

  • If the launch is canceled on the first day of the launch window, then KSC VC honors the tickets for one additional day. If this happens, we will all head back to the Visitor Center and do it over again!
  • If the launch gets scrubbed a second time, then KSC VC’s tickets expire and we would either leave without getting to see the launch in person, or have to spend additional funds on another ticket, or simply stay in the area and watch from a free, public location.

If you can’t make it to Florida

If you can’t see the launch in person, we encourage you to make plans to view the launch at home or with friends or other Planetary Society members at your own launch parties. To support this, we have published some tips and additional information that you can use to create your own event, and we will live stream our mission briefing so that you can participate remotely. We will also carry a live stream of the launch itself on planetary.org. Whether you are in Florida or Oklahoma or Belgium or Japan, you have a special connection with this launch and can celebrate it with us across multiple regions and time zones.

After the launch

After the launch, the real work begins. Several hours after launch, our next mission milestone will be the deployment of Prox-1 with LightSail 2 inside it. One week after Prox-1’s deployment, Prox-1 will deploy LightSail 2. The mission team will then run LightSail 2 through a series of tests. As soon as a few days later LightSail will deploy its solar sail and begin flight operations. We will mark these milestones by reporting on them to you via email, social media, and special blogs and Kickstarter Updates. Each of these moments may offer further opportunities for celebration.

Final thoughts

Along with our CEO, Bill Nye, I had the privilege of attending the first test flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket just over a year ago. It was the third rocket launch I’ve been to and it was by far the best experience I’ve had to date. The rocket is extremely powerful and seeing the twin boosters land was amazing. The timing for the upcoming launch isn’t set yet, but we understand that it may be in the early morning hours, which would be visually spectacular.

What I’ve shared above is all subject to change once we get more detailed information from the Air Force and NASA. We want everyone to come and join us, but you’ll need to do so with “eyes wide open” about the risks and rewards associated with the schedule. I hope this information sketches out a picture of what to expect.

Stay tuned!

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