Not to worry, Erik, you missed nothing. The Falcon Heavy launch was just a test; the Lightsail folks hope to get on a future launch when SpaceX opens up the payload for paying passengers. There has been one lightsail test in orbit so far, which can probably be termed “a learning experience” (it didn’t fail, but it could have gone better). The next lightsail test hopes to fix the parts that didn’t go well before, plus test maneuvers like increasing Earth orbit. The video shows how they plan to do it (and is useful for people who don’t understand how a lightsail can help a vehicle actually increase speed toward the sun). I’m not sure how high they hope #2 will go.

The first test only lasted a few days, since the lightsail vehicle was in low-Earth orbit and the atmospheric drag was awful, so it lost orbit and burned up (this was by design).

Tell your daughter people in the States think she’s super-cool for studying this kind of thing. Some day she could be working with folks like these:

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The LIghtsail project team. Source: The Planetary Society

Hope that helps!

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Husband & retiree. Developer, tech writer, & IT geek. I fill what’s empty, empty what’s full, and scratch where it itches. Occasionally do weird & goofy things.

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