Happy Space Friday! Let's all Kickstart a mission to the moon.
PocketSpacecraft.com is trying to raise £290,000 to send a bunch of paper-thin coaster-sized landers to the moon. The aim of the game is to prove that low-cost space exploration is possible. That means using a shoestring budget to do useful science on an extra-planetary body; in this case, the moon.
Much of the innovation comes in the landers themselves. They will weigh less than a gram, have an average thickness of less than 0.05mm, and be 8cm in diameter. That's all hugely important when you're trying to get anything as far as the moon, because weight counts for a lot. Weight costs fuel to get into space; and fuel costs money.
That said, money can be saved by hitchhiking. And that's what the projects creator's plan to do, using a CubeSat. That's a small, cube-shaped box, which can be loaded up with the landers and stowed away (er, with permission) on a larger rocket. It's so small that it can be shoved into almost any American, European or Russian rocket. That's important, because, as the project says:
We have to be flexible enough to hitch a ride along with a high end commercial or scientific spacecraft going in roughly the right direction, then we'll be dropped off and make our own way on to where we want to go.
But some won't make it that far. In order to demonstrate that the concept works on planets with atmospheres, the plan is to sprinkle some over Earth; thanks to their weight, size and the material they're made from, they shouldn't (fingers crossed, here) burn up on re-entry. If they don't, the next step is to find them.
Once that's done, the CubeSat heads to the moon. It'll drop the rest of the landers to de-orbit down onto the surface.
The landers – which they call "scouts" – are "solar powered with integrated optical and radio transceivers and can have sensors including a single pixel optical sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, temperature sensor, strain gauges and more". They can't have them all at once though, that'd make them too heavy.
Look, let's be blunt. This is for science. The money will go to proving the concept that light, useful spaceships can be sent to the moon on a budget which is a rounding error for NASA. But it's also a chance to put your name on a thing which will be on the moon. That's amazing, no?