Using solar radiation to propel a spacecraft using a mainsail a few microns thick is a concept that the Planetary Society, a private organization seeking to promote space exploration, is testing successfully.
The deployment of LightSail, an experimental solar sail put into orbit on May 20, is an almost complete success. The craft, no bigger than a toaster, managed to open its huge sails of Mylar measuring only 4.5 microns thick.
Despite some glitches at launch with software problems leading to a loss of communication and the failure of a battery, LightSail still deployed its sails and transmitted images from its on-board cameras.
The solar sail could become a economical way (if not fast) transport orspace exploration (track comets and asteroids, for example) using the infinite source of solar winds to move around and a first mission could be launched in 2016. For the moment, the 4.3 million dollar project will gradually descend little of its orbit before burn in the atmosphere.