KickSat is a crowdfunded effort to launch a series of sprite satellites (roughly the size of a dime) into orbit. It’s a demonstration of concept that launched on April 14. Unfortunately, the project is likely to burn up before the sprites can be deployed from the satellite that brought them into space (H/T The Atlantic). There was a reset of an onboard clock that, if not fixed, would delay the scheduled deployment beyond the time when the KickSat mother satellite’s orbit would decay. If they can get things back in order, it might look something like this:
It would be unfortunate should it fail to deploy, and a severe disappointment to project leader Zac Manchester (an aerospace engineering student at Cornell), his colleagues, and the over 300 funders that contributed to the effort. But space agencies and groups like the Planetary Society are familiar with failure, and I hope that KickSat can manage to learn from the problem and maintain the enthusiasm of its supporters.
I’m not about to suggest that NASA start crowdfunding its missions, but I think the ability of researchers and private groups to organize their own space missions, perhaps coupled with the use of innovation-focused competitions like the Google Lunar X Prize may be a means forward should Russia-U.S. space cooperation continue to decay and Congress fails to respond with additional support. There are a small cadre of dedicated people who want to help us move into the solar system, and they are willing to take chances. Thankfully we can let them.