Planetary Society Raises $1.2 Million for LightSail

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WASHINGTON — In a June 26 video posted to the  Kickstarter crowdfunding website, Bill Nye announced that the Planetary Society surpassed its stretch goal of $1.24 million to fund the 2016 LightSail mission.

Nye, chief executive of the Pasadena, California-based nonprofit, thanked the project’s backers for supporting this final fundraising push. “We are going to have a successful flight thanks to you,” he said.

Jennifer Vaughn, chief operating officer of the Planetary Society, said in a June 11 email that the organization expects to spend some $5 million on the LightSail project. This figure covers the project’s 2009 start to the a projected end-date in February 2017.

In a recent test-mission to low Earth orbit, the Planetary Society demonstrated the LightSail cubesat’s solar sail-unfurling hardware. The mission, which was marred by software glitches and nail-biting communication blackouts, was deemed a success.

Doug Stetson, LightSail project manager, said in June 17 email, “We learned a tremendous amount from the LightSail test flight,” he said, “and we are already using those lessons to prepare for next year’s primary mission.”

The Planetary Society’s next LightSail spacecraft, which is planned to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy in August or September of 2016, will be placed into a 720-kilometer orbit — high enough to allow the craft to make full use its solar sail for propulsion before eventually falling back to Earth.

“We’re going to demonstrate solar sailing for real,” Nye said. “It’s going to be a very exciting flight.”