spaceSpace and Physics

Bill Nye Wants You To Help Him Build A Solar Powered Spacecraft

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Aamna Mohdin

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228 Bill Nye Wants You To Help Him Build A Solar Powered Spacecraft
Ed Schipul via Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0

Have you ever wanted to join Bill Nye the Science Guy on a cosmic adventure? Well, now’s your chance. Using the funding platform Kickstarter, Nye is raising funds to launch his LightSail project, which will try to sail a tiny spacecraft using the sun’s energy.  

The LightSail mission hopes to actualize the principles first described by their “visionary founders” Louis Friedman, Bruce Murray and Carl Sagan. The idea was popularized by Sagan on Johnny Carson’s "The Tonight Show" (see video below).  




LightSail is a ‘citizen-funded project’ by The Planetary Society, which Nye leads as their CEO. The project will use the sun’s energy to propel itself into Earth’s orbit. While light particles, or photons, don't have any mass, they do have momentum. The project will use tiny CubeSats, a type of satellite used in space research, to carry large reflective sails and use the momentum from photons to accelerate. The spacecraft can accelerate continuously and increase in speed over time.  

"Through this proof-of-concept mission, we will use CubeSats to open new paths beyond Earth and one day potentially to other planets with an inexpensive, inexhaustible means of propulsion,” says Nye on LightSail’s Kickstarter page. “LightSail propulsion truly holds the promise—dare I say it?—to change the world."


The initial Kickstarter goal of $200,000 has already been met, but the project needs to raise $1.2 million before the mission can be launched. Nye and The Planetary Society are giving away a number of goodies, including pieces of the solar sail, to those who make pledges. The rewards range from a LightSail T-shirt to the opportunity to send your name to space on LightSail.

A prototype of the spacecraft will be tested later this month, though it won’t be able to ‘solar sail’ as it will not be high enough above the Earth’s atmosphere. The mission is scheduled to launch in the fall of 2016. You can learn more about the crowdfunded campaign in the video below.




Image credit: Ed Schipul via Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0


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