A second solar sail spacecraft launch will be attempted by the Planetary Society, California by the end of 2010.

The society intends to launch three separate spacecraft over the years, beginning with LightSail-1, which will demonstrate a spacecraft propelled by only sunlight in the Earth’s orbit.

If successful, the LightSail programme will create and prove solar sail technologies that will detect solar storms, provide stable Earth observation platforms, eliminate the need for carrying heavy propellants to space and eventually make interstellar flight possible in the future.

Planetary Society executive director Louis Friedman said that they are going to merge the ultra-light technology of nanosats with the ultra-large technology of solar sails in an audacious new programme.

The LightSail-1 will be built with three Cubesat spacecraft with central electronics, a control module and a solar sail module.

LightSail-1 will have four triangular sails, arranged in a diamond shape resembling a giant kite and will be placed in an orbit over 800km above Earth to escape the drag of its uppermost atmosphere.

The spacecraft at that altitude will be subject only to the force of gravity to keep it in orbit and the pressure of sunlight on its sails increasing the orbital energy.

The first spacecraft will operate for just a few days to determine if it can be controlled and to measure the orbital acceleration.

LightSail-2 will demonstrate a longer duration flight to higher Earth orbits, while LightSail-3 will go to the point where solar sails can monitor the geomagnetic storms from the Sun for applications and satellites.

The society had made a previous attempt at sailing such a solar craft in 2005, but was unsuccessful.