Dennis Overbye wrote Monday about the plans by the Planetary Society to build and fly a series of solar sails, dubbed "LightSails," over the next three years, first in orbit around Earth and then into deeper space, saying that
About a year from now, if all goes well, a box about the size of a loaf of bread will pop out of a rocket some 500 miles above the Earth. There in the vacuum it will unfurl four triangular sails as shiny as moonlight and only barely more substantial. Then it will slowly rise on a sunbeam and move across the stars.
The project, interestingly enough, is the successor of the fated NanoSail effort, which failed to reach space when the stages on the Falcon-1 rocket taking it orbit did not separate. Overbye:
And so LightSail was born. Its sail, adapted from the Nanosail project, is made of aluminized Mylar about one-quarter the thickness of a trash bag. The body of the spacecraft will consist of three miniature satellites known as CubeSats, four inches on a side, which were first developed by students at Stanford and now can be bought on the Web, among other places. One of the cubes will hold electronics and the other two will carry folded-up sails, Dr. Friedman said.
Video of NanoSail may be seen below.