We all know him as The Science Guy, but Bill Nye isn’t just into science communication anymore — he’s launching spacecraft that fly with photons.
As CEO of The Planetary Society, Nye is now looking to increase citizen access to space. The society wants to do it by picking up a project that the late, great Carl Sagan once introduced on the Johnny Carson show: a solar sailing spacecraft. Solar sails are a way for spacecraft to accelerate through the void without the need for fuel. The idea is that photons from the Sun and other stars bounce off large mylar sails and impart their momentum. The result is a spacecraft that won’t start off very fast, but could eventually (through constant acceleration) surpass the speeds of traditional chemical rockets.
After launch, a solar sailed spacecraft about the size of a bread box would unfurl to the size of a boxing ring and carry small cube satellites or “cubesats” into space. The affordability and flexibility of these cubesats is what will allow citizens and universities to conduct their own adventures in space. It’s also what Bill Nye needs our help with:
Now fully funded (but can use every cent), The Planetary Society’s LightSail project is offering stretch goals to help flesh out the various aspects of its mission. You can still get patches, t-shirts, attend the launch, and even get a lunch with Bill Nye (…for $10K). The first launch of the LightSail will happen next Wednesday the 20th when it hitches a ride on an Atlas V rocket to sort out the kinks of deployment in microgravity before another cubesat actually sails (the first one will burn up in the atmosphere). The first official flight with light mission is scheduled for 2016.
Better yet, when LightSail is up and running, the Society says you should be able to see its reflected light from here on Earth, and will have resources available if you want to catch a glimpse. You can help citizens connect with space and actually see that connection.
For much more information about the LightSail mission, head over to the KickStarter page, running for the next 43 days.