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An artist rendition of what the LightSail will look like if it can be deployed

Update, Saturday evening: LightSail spacecraft reboots in orbit: ‘It’s alive!’ says Bill Nye

A glitch with a spreadsheet file has caused Bill Nye’s LightSail satellite to stop responding. With no communication, the Planetary Society may have to wait for a cosmic particle to hit the restart button for them before they can open the light-catching sail.

The problem started on May 22, when the team learned of a bug where a CSV file can grow too big and cause the entire system to crash. The bug was fixed in an update, but LightSail’s onboard computers didn’t run on that version of the telemetry software.

Photo via Kickstarter/LightSail/Bill Nye
Photo via Kickstarter/LightSail/Bill Nye

In a post on the Planetary Society website, Jason Davis outlined the course of action. The problem is that the computer is so bogged down it can’t even process the restart command.

“It’s similar to the way you deal with a frozen computer: You can try to struggle past sluggish menus and click reboot, but sometimes, your only recourse is pressing the power button,” Davis said in the post.

“There’s nobody in outer space to push that reset button,” Nye told Davis in an interview last year.

The solution sounds crazier than it actually is though. Charged particles zip around outer space all the time. If one of them hits one of LightSail’s electronics components in just the right way, it will cause a reboot. Many spacecraft have to deal with restarting systems, usually within the first three weeks. The satellite will orbit for up to six months without a restart.

Once the system does restart, the sail that harnesses solar energy will be deployed to help prove the concept of a solar sail, one goal of the mission.

LightSail launched on May 20 aboard United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The LightSail team will continue trying to restart the system and is ready to upload a software patch when contact is made, but they may just have to wait for a bolt from the black.

Update, Saturday evening: LightSail spacecraft reboots in orbit: ‘It’s alive!’ says Bill Nye

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