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Uh-oh! Bill Nye's solar spacecraft needs a reboot

The experimental LightSail spacecraft has lost communication with Earth due to a software glitch. So far, attempts to initiate a reboot have been unsuccessful.

Bill Nye and the Planetary Society's LightSail spacecraft, which rocketed to space on May 20 alongside the US Air Force's secretive X-37B space plane, has fallen silent due to a software glitch. The experimental solar sail stopped sending data back to Earth on May 22.

The LightSail project's engineers believe a vulnerability inside the spacecraft's Linux-based flight software halted its operations -- causing the craft's automated telemetry chirps to go silent over the Memorial Day weekend, according to a Planetary Society blog post. A reboot of the system is needed but attempts to initiate a reboot from the ground have thus far been unsuccessful -- leaving a manual reboot as the only option.

This predicament was foreshadowed in a way by a promotional video for the LightSail project posted in early 2015. In the clip, Nye -- who is CEO of the nonprofit space advocacy group -- joked with engineer Barbara Plante that "there's nobody in outer space to push that reset button." Little did Nye know that they would actually need someone to press that button during the LightSail's test mission.

The LightSail, which consists of a lightweight CubeSat satellite module and a large Mylar sail, is designed to test the feasibility of using the pressure of sunlight on large, sail-like panels to provide propulsion. The goal of this initial mission is to test the mechanism that will deploy the sail-like Mylar panels from the spacecraft as well as to evaluate control software, communications and power systems.

All hope is not lost, however. There is a chance the LightSail could reboot on its own if charged particles in deep space hit an electronics component in just the right way. Such reboots are a common occurrence for spacecraft similar to LightSail, according to the Planetary Society, with most experiencing a reboot within the first three weeks.

So, the LightSail may very well reboot and start sending data back to Earth. But for now, Nye and his team of engineers have to play the waiting game.

(Via Washington Post)

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