back to article PHOTON SPACE SAIL successfully Kickstarted into orbit

NASA might have canned its Sunjammer project, but that doesn't mean lightsail research is dead: a Planetary Society Kickstarter fronted by famous American “Science Guy” Bill Nye has hit its target and will go ahead. The 32 square metre (it sounds better as 344 square feet) LightSail, which overshot its US$200,000 crowdfunding …

  1. tony2heads

    solar sailing

    hoist up the top sheet and spanker

    1. no-one in particular

      Re: solar sailing

      > hoist up the top sheet and spanker

      Spank'er ? That's a bit racy!

      Spinnaker - that's a bit racey.

      1. AbelSoul

        Re: Spanker, Spinnaker, Sphinx-ter?

        I had no idea that a Spanker is also a type of sail.

        Nor was I aware that the word Spinnaker came from Sphinx, mispronounced as Spinx, which is probably a fortuitous mispronunciation or else cries of "raise the Sphinkter" may have been heard for the last 150 years.

        1. Pirate Dave

          Re: Spanker, Spinnaker, Sphinx-ter?

          Nice links. Then I found and lost about 30 minutes of my life.

          On the other hand, now I can't WAIT for September 19th. :)

    2. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

      Re: spanker?

      Hardly know 'er!

  2. Vulch


    The Japanese launched Ikaros five years ago next week.

    1. Phuq Witt

      Re: Interplanetary

      C'mon. You know scientific breakthroughs don't really exist until an American 'discovers' them.

    2. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Re: Interplanetary

      "The Japanese launched Ikaros five years ago next week."

      I think the time travel aspect is of worthier news than a light sail!!

  3. Ragarath

    A great use for Kickstarter!

    This is what Kickstarter is good at! Allowing people to put money into projects like this that we would not normally hear about as it would all be done in academic circles.

    I wish this project well.

  4. lee harvey osmond

    photon sources?

    "However, unlike lighting a Bloody Big Firecracker (TM), the Sun doesn't run out"

    Hmmm. That sounds like Project Orion to me. I'll admit it, I lust after that one.

  5. Annihilator

    "one-fourth the thickness of an average trash bag"

    Or "a quarter", as we regular people call it.

    1. toughluck

      New El Reg standard unit for thickness?

      How thick is an average trash bag? What is the minimum and maximum thickness for trash bags? I know that below a certain thickness, things labeled and sold as trash bags are not fit for purpose (unless the purpose is to bag them in trash).

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        Re: New El Reg standard unit for thickness?

        Which average? Mode, median, mean?

        1. Rol Silver badge

          Re: New El Reg standard unit for thickness?

          Modian:- A way of describing the average so that it perfectly fits the argument.

          See also, lies, damned lies and statistics.

          Palin:- A measure of thickness. A nano Palin is ten to the power minus nine, two short planks.

          See also, Alaskan politician.

          1. Rol Silver badge

            Re: New El Reg standard unit for thickness?

            Reminds me of the Italian nun who had gone to heaven prematurely and was offered the chance to return to Earth as anyone she wanted to be, other than herself, as that wasn't possible.

            She pronounced she wanted to return as "Alas Kian Pippa Liny"

            "Sorry, who's that again?"

            At that she pulled out a newspaper with the headline "Alaskan Pipeline. Laid by 70,000 Men in Three Years"

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: New El Reg standard unit for thickness?

              Would a trash bag be the equivalent of a bin liner in English?

              Top tip: I keep two short planks next to my desk for comparison purposes when receiving visitors. It's especially useful with management types.

      2. AbelSoul

        Re: How thick is an average trash bag?

        About four times the thickness of a photon sail.

        1. Chris Harden

          Re: How thick is an average trash bag?

          Sounds like this is a job for the Vulture Central Weights and Measures department.

  6. Joe Cooper

    JAXA got a solar sail out to Venus. No mention? Does nobody in the press even Google?

    Reminds me of back when they shot down USA 193 and I kept seeing in the news that anti-sat technology had never been done except – perhaps! – in secret. Not only did the USAF do it in the 80s (with an F-15) but they put out pictures and the rockets themselves are in museums for public viewing.

  7. whitespacephil

    Ah, ok, so Bill Nye, "The Science Guy" from The Big Bang Theory is a real thing... does that mean that Professor Proton was, also?

    What we would have had in the UK... Kieran Prendeville spreading Strawberry jam on CDs and Heinz Wolff with his Great Egg Race.

    1. no-one in particular

      > What we would have had in the UK

      Or Magnus Pyke? "We were going to talk to Professor Magnus Pyke about how helicopters work but at rehearsals he blew away".

      1. Little Mouse

        > What we would have had in the UK

        Or Wilf the Inventor, whose "inventions" ALWAYS involved a steel ball rolling down a track, setting off minor pyrotechnics and causing balloons to inflate.

    2. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

      Bill Nye was a regular staple of children's educational programming in the 90's and "Professor Proton" is a bad rip-off of Mr. Wizard from the late-70's, early-80's.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I hope they've paid for their patent licenses. It's not only NASA, but Astrium used this well over a decade ago on their kit.

  9. Alister Silver badge

    32 square metre (it sounds better as 344 square feet)

    Oh come on El Reg, where's your consistency, why aren't you using the El Reg standard measurements?

    I make that to be 1.5402 NanoWales, or 0.0079 of a football pitch.

    1. Martin Budden

      Re: 32 square metre (it sounds better as 344 square feet)

      0.04 square brontosauruses (just don't ask me where to find a brontosaurus that shape).

  10. User McUser

    "the Sun doesn't run out"

    Ha! Don't we all wish...

    In 4 Billion years or so, you're going to look pretty gosh-darn silly when the sun goes out and your solar sail is suddenly useless!!

  11. Charlie Clark Silver badge


    Photons have very, very little momentum. Even with the currently relatively poor yields from photo-electric cells I can't see any advantage of a solar sail over an ion drive that harvests hydrogen from space. Anyway, give the lack of any current, how do they expect to steer the damn thing? And braking?

    Still, if people want to put their money into this, then good luck to them.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Efficiency

      Navigate? like a dingy - bound to be cheaper as it carries no fuel at all

    2. tony2heads

      Re: Efficiency

      I think the sail would work better if it used the solar wind (at least in the inner solar system) but you would probably need to keep it charged. Since the bulk momentum from the solar wind will be from +ve charge protons you could keep the sail positively charged by electrically attaching it to an beta particle emitting radioisotope; perhaps Nickel-63.

      Anyone want to set up a crowd funding for that idea?

    3. Alistair Silver badge

      Re: Efficiency

      The physics works. Aaaaaand, as a method of acquiring momentum, it has so little cost (the volume of the sail) that it has its place. As for current, it runs in one direction, *out*. You run with the current. To change direction, one angles against the current. Oh, and look, if you want to run into the current, there is that gravity thing.

      It won't be the wally 118 of the solar system, but with consideration and time it will get you there.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        Re: Efficiency

        To change direction, one angles against the current.

        Not without a current you don't, and you don't have one in space, only the gravity of any planets.

        Ion drives are potentially self-sustaining feeding off any atoms they can harvest on their travels. A couple of kilos of xenon give them a nice kick-start. Hardly noticeable in comparison to any payload when getting into space.

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