In 1959, the author Martin Caidin (“Marooned”) wrote, “The mysterious Moon may well be Man’s next outpost in the conquest of space. How will he reach it? What will he find there? Will we be the first to land on the Moon or is Russia likely to beat us in the race for space?” Ten years later, Neil Armstrong set foot on lunar soil to cross the finish line of the first race for the Moon. Today, another race has begun, not for national pride and not just for science. In fact, this race may well resemble the great California Gold Rush more than the Space Race of the 1960′s. Fueling this race is the very same advanced technology that was enabled by the first space race, specifically spacecraft miniaturization and the invention of the CubeSat.
Now, one enterprising non-profit group is planning to take a CubeSat to new heights, literally. The method they are using to fund and build their spacecraft is no less innovative than the mission it will undertake.
LunarSail is an ambitious project to put a solar sail on a CubeSat and send it into orbit around the Moon. What sets this project apart from other smallsat projects, other than the part about the Moon, is that it is a crowdsourced mission. That means the hardware is being built and paid for by average citizens who support the mission. It isn’t funded by NASA or large corporate sponsor. While other CubeSats have been funded primarily by the participants and donors (check out the AMSAT organization for some interesting past and present missions), LunarSail will be the first to utilize a solar sail for a mission beyond Earth’s orbit.