The Planetary Society made history on June 26th, 2015 raising $1.24 million dollars by using crowdfunding to privatize their LightSail project, and subsequently changing the way we think about space exploration.
With media figurehead Bill Nye from your favorite kids show “Bill Nye the Science Guy” leading Tthe way as The Planetary Society’s CEO, and other notable scientists, such as Neil Degrasse Tyson sharing his enthusiasm about the project, this non-profit organization has been able to launch a test flight LightSail prototype into low orbit and despite some technical setbacks, the picture to the left shows the end result. Here was their original Kickstart video, and the deployment of their LightSail Satellite in the testing facility. Also, here is a Lightsail, Then and now excerpt by Bill Nye on the original idea presented by Carl Sagan. Oh, and just because it needs to be seen, Bill Nye as SpeedWalker. (Sorry Bill, had to do it.)
The Planetary Society’s goal is to construct lightweight satellites and spacecraft that are able to “sail” just like a normal sailboat, using the “sun’s wind” or the radiation and photons which radiate out from the sun (and any star) both day and night. It’s literally sailing on sunlight. The current models being designed have a 344 square-foot solar sail, rather than chemical fuel. Ultimately, the Planetary Society believes that space sails could be a reliable, low-cost way to propel all kinds of little satellites (or CubeSats) and maybe even with a large enough sail manned spacecraft, through space.
The videos linked above will help with the science portion, as Nye and Tyson do a pretty good job explaining the science behind the sails. The big thing to remember is that photons don’t have mass, but they do have momentum. And when they reflect off the shiny mylar surface of a solar sail, some of that momentum gets transferred to the sail.
The prototype launch on May 20th, 2015 was just a test of the sail’s deployment mechanism, and after opening and running some tests the prototype fell back to earth and burned up in its return through the atmosphere. The Planetary Society plans to send up a fully operating version come next year. It’ll be attached to Prox-1, a small autonomous satellite designed to inspect other spacecrafts. Prox-1 will launch on a SpaceX rocket called Falcon Heavy, which is in essence a NGO-built solar sail launching on a privately owned rocket (nice right?)
As previously stated, the project is the realization of an old idea ranging back into the time of Carl Sagan who started The Planetary Society not too long after he spoke of it on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1976. (make sure to at least check that clip out, Carl Sagan was not only Bill Nye’s mentor, but a great spokesperson for the sciences)
With our help as members and donaters to the cause, we the public have succeeded in bringing an idea to fruition. Together we as fellow scientists, citizens, and those rare and novel space pirate daydreamers *sigh*, can push the frontier that a majority of governments have come to neglect. I think space privatization is the future of space exploration, and it’s pretty obvious Bill Nye and Neil Degrasse Tyson agree. With everyone’s help we can leave behind the red tape and issues with funding, pushing ourselves forward and out into the stars. Here is an excerpt from Bill Nye off TPS’s website:
Join or Donate to The Planetary Society
We are Your Place in Space!
You and I are wowed and awed by the discovery of new things, the mysteries of science, the innovations of technology, the bravery of astronauts, and by the stunning images sent back to us from other worlds.
Support The Planetary Society and together we will explore space.
Together, we will work to seek answers to those deep questions: Where did we come from? and Are we alone?
Let’s change the world!
CEO, The Planetary Society
The Planetary Society is incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in the United States.
And since I am a big Carl Sagan junkie, feel free to enjoy this video.