Fancy your own mini spacecraft that can be launched into space? Don’t write this off as some science fiction from an Arthur C Clarke book. Zac Manchester, a graduate student in aerospace engineering at Cornell University, has just launched a fund-raising campaign on the Kickstarter web site to garner funds for his KickSat project to launch Sprite spacecraft on behalf of individuals or companies.
The one square inch Sprites were originally designed as space probes to study solar winds, cosmic dust and so on. Three of the Sprites were in fact delivered in May 2011 to the International Space Station to see how well they withstand the conditions of outer space. They are scheduled to be brought back to earth in a couple of years.
A contribution of $300 via the Kickstarter web site gets you the opportunity to name a Sprite, decide what four character message it will transmit and allow you to track it via the KickSat web site. If you’re willing to contribute $1000, then you even get to see a physical Sprite and get access to the computer programmes needed to write its custom flight code.
If you wish to, you can even get help to set up your own ground station and get instructions on how to receive and interpret the signals from your own Sprite.
Depending on how much money Zac is able to raise, he will either be able to purchase a spot on a commercial launch programme or have to wait until a spot is available on a free launch programme.
A small box-like satellite would be used to carry hundreds or even thousands of Sprites into a low-altitude orbit; these spring-loaded Sprites would shoot out when the satellite is “opened” using a radio signal.
Check out the KickSat project page