An original concept by Carl Sagan is being conceived into action by an Avengers-style team of super scientists, and they need your help. Bill Nye and The Planetary Society are attempting to raise money, via Kickstarter, for a new project known as LightSail, a sailing spacecraft that utilizes solar power to propel itself across the galaxy.
I’ll let Nye himself explain what makes LightSail so intriguing:
- Imagine it: unlimited free energy from the Sun will provide CubeSats with propulsion and revolutionize access to space for low-cost citizen projects—projects like ours or by teams of students and faculty at universities. This means that spacecraft, especially small ones like CubSats, won’t have to carry heavy fuels into orbit, and that the acceleration will be continuous.
You can actually see Sagan promote his solar sailing idea on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show (video below).
Solar sails work by using the sun’s energy as a means of propulsion. Light produces energy called photons, reflects off the sail, and transfers its momentum. While the acceleration is relatively small, the Sun’s light will provide a continuous stream of energy, allowing the LightSail to travel anywhere in our solar system—and maybe even into interstellar space.
The first official test flight will actually take place later this month, though it won’t fly high enough to test the solar sailing. Instead, the goal is to test out the system’s sail deployment sequence, ensuring LightSail’s technology is sound. With enough money, The Planetary Society hopes to deploy the first LightSail into space next year.