Bill Nye’s Kickstarter raises $300,000 for solar-powered spacecraft

Luke Graham, special to CNBC

U.S. scientist Bill Nye, popularly known as "the Science Guy", has launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to fund an experimental satellite propelled purely by energy from the sun.

The project, called LightSail, involves attaching solar sails to a CubeSat (a low-price, miniature satellite) and launching it into space, in order to prove the viability of solar propulsion.

A depiction of LightSail with its unfurled solar sails
Josh Spradling | The Planetary Society

Solar sails, which would power and propel spacecraft using sunlight, could make it easier and cheaper to send satellites and crafts into space, potentially benefiting both businesses and educational and research groups such as universities.

Aside from his television career, Bill Nye is CEO of The Planetary Society, the U.S. non-governmental, non-profit organization involved in space research that developed LightSail. The society has raised $4.25 million so far to fund the project, but requires a further $1.2 million.

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Through crowdfunding—when funds are sought from large numbers of small investors, typically via the Internet—Nye initially hoped to raise $200,000. This was quickly reached on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter and at the time of writing—only two days into the fundraising campaign—over $300,000 has been pledged. It is now hoped the crowdfunding campaign could raise up to $1 million.

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The Planetary Society will use the money to test a prototype of LightSail this month, raise public awareness about the technology and build a complete craft which will be launched into space in 2016.

The Planetary Society was founded in 1980 by renowned scientists Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman. Nye became CEO in 2010.

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