Science nerds can do crowdfunding, too.
Bill Nye — yes, “The Science Guy” — has raised more than $500,000 so far via Kickstarter, the crowdfunding website that’s launched a gazillion artistic, charitable and other passion projects. But Nye, the onetime science TV-show host, has a different sort of launch in mind: the space launch of a solar-power satellite.
These days, Nye is CEO of the Planetary Society, a nonprofit group supporting space exploration whose original founders included the late pop-science icon Carl Sagan.
The solar-sat project, dubbed LightSail, proposes to attach so-called solar sails to a miniature satellite, or CubeSat, to be launched it into space. The project’s primary aim is to support the premise of solar propulsion.
“For us to succeed with our BHAAG — that stands for big, hairy, audacious (but achievable!) goal — of having solar sail technology becoming widely adopted, we must do more than run our proof-of-concept mission,” Nye writes on his Kickstarter project page. “We have to tell the world about LightSail!”
If solar sails are proven viable for spacecraft propulsion, the cost reductions over current means could be huge. Beneficiaries could encompass a broad range of businesses, as well as universities and other educational and research institutions.
Ultimately, even the general public should benefit, Nye suggests. “Unlimited free energy from the sun will provide CubeSat propulsion and revolutionize access to space for low-cost citizen projects,” he says.
By mid-May, LightSail’s page had raised more than $568,000 from donations by more than 10,700 individuals. In total, the Planetary Society has raised roughly $4.5 million for the LightSail project with a target funding set at $5 million-plus.
Kickstarter is best known for funding passion projects by those involved in film, music, art, theater, games, comics and other creative arts. As with crowdfunding generally, its online model allows large numbers of like-minded small donors to give money in any denomination from $1 upward, with no prospect of financial return but usually a small gift such as the sticker and stickpin that $15 donors to LightSail will get.
Nye’s campaign had an original target of $200,000, which it quickly surpassed. One initial use of the funds is envisioned by early summer: testing a LightSail prototype to raise awareness of the project and solar-propulsion technology.
The Planetary Society aims to build a more complete LightSail CubeSat for launch into space sometime next year.