Contributions from private citizens through donation platforms like Kickstarter helped fund the innovative technology behind two solar sail satellite missions launched by the non-profit group The Planetary Society.
Purdue University’s David Spencer, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics, is the team lead for an upcoming satellite launch on June 22. The organization saw the launch of its first test satellite equipped with solar sailing technology in 2015.
“Entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have their companies and generally funded by other revenue generating sources, but this kind of crowdfunding of having small donations from people, it really opens up a new domain,” Spencer says.
After this story was published, Spencer added via email, "Space missions have traditionally been funded by government agencies. More recently, entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have funded development of space technology. The LightSail program was citizen funded from members of the Planetary Society, private donors and crowd funding. This is a new way to fund space flight particularly missions with exciting science and technology goals that energize the public."
Solar sails are reflective attachments that propel objects along using the power of the sun. Satellites outfitted with solar sails create better opportunities for studying the sun.
The concept of solar sailing dates back more than a century in literature, and Spencer says the solar sails can allow for both faster and more efficient interplanetary travel.
This story has been updated to include additonal comments from David Spencer.