The Planetary Society — led by CEO Bill Nye — successfully launched the first prototype of the LightSail, a mini, solar-powered satellite, into space this morning.
According to the Planetary Society’s blog, the liftoff occurred at 11:05 ET, with the LightSail hitching a ride on a CubeSat, a small satellite about the size of a bread box, aboard United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
— Planetary Society (@exploreplanets) May 20, 2015
It’s the first of two planned launches for Nye’s passion project, the next one being set for 2016 aboard SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. His organization, which seeks to “democratize space,” has already launched a Kickstarter to support that next launch project. As of now, they are well on their way with more than 11,500 backers who have contributed more than $600,000, well over the initial ask of $200,000. They are now seeking $1 million to further pursue getting the word out to the public about LightSail through attending more conferences and making presentations.
Why a small, lightweight, solar-powered satellite? Nye writes via Kickstarter that he was inspired to pursue the dream of sending a small satellite powered by the sun into space by “visionary founders” like Louis Friedman, Bruce Murray and Carl Sagan.
“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,” Nye writes. “This means that spacecraft, especially small ones like CubeSats, won’t have to carry heavy fuels into orbit, and that the acceleration will be continuous. Even better, this is a journey that is directly funded by the world’s citizens, like you, rather than by governments. LightSail™ is truly ‘the people’s spacecraft.’ ”
Watch Nye and his friend Neil deGrasse Tyson talk about the importance of LightSail here: