Send your own Pocket Spacecraft on a Mission to the Moon!
Send your own Pocket Spacecraft on a Mission to the Moon!
Kickstart the personal space age by sending your own personalised spacecraft to the moon!
Kickstart the personal space age by sending your own personalised spacecraft to the moon! Read more
About this project
Would you like to send your own spacecraft to the moon?
Have you ever dreamt of exploring the solar system with your own spacecraft?
Well finally you can!
We’ve developed a very low cost, open source, open access, mass space exploration system that anyone can use, and we need your help to send your very own Pocket Spacecraft, and thousands of others, on a first of its kind expedition to the moon.
We're a global team of scientists, engineers and designers that have worked on this concept at some of the world's leading universities and come together to kick start the personal interplanetary space age and give you the opportunity to become a hands on citizen space explorer. Explorers who back the project can personalise their own spacecraft by adding a picture and customising the message it transmits using just their web browser. More technical explorers can even customise software and hardware.
Smaller than a CD and as thin as a piece of paper, you'll be able to watch online as your Pocket Spacecraft is built in the lab and loaded into an Interplanetary CubeSat Mothership. Having hitched a ride into space on a commercial rocket, some Pocket Spacecraft will be released into space to flutter to the ground to demonstrate landing on a planet with an atmosphere (the Earth). The mothership will set off to the moon where, when it arrives many months later, the rest of the Pocket Spacecraft will be released, photographed and then land on the moon to complete the mission.
You'll monitor progress throughout with your own Pocket Mission Control app - track the progress of your spacecraft as it is designed, built and travels through space. See data from your spacecraft's instruments as it arrives, relayed from space by a global ground station network direct to your smartphone. Hold your phone up to the sky and use the augmented reality feature to point out exactly where your spacecraft is!
Never before will private individuals have had such a hands on opportunity to take an active part in interplanetary space exploration - this is your chance to be a true space pioneer!
Members of our team co-created the first space mission funded on KickStarter (KickSat - due to be launched by NASA later this year), and have created or co-led influential workshops such as the Interplanetary CubeSat Workshop at MIT, and the Keck Institute for Space Studies Small Satellites: A Revolution in Space Science workshop at Caltech.
We’ve created more than twenty open space projects since 2009 building the elements we need for this mission, with contributions from more than a hundred volunteers in twenty countries (and counting) led by our co-ordinators in Europe (Bristol, UK) and America (Pasadena, USA). In short, we’re serious.
We’ll tell you how we expect the project to work in a moment, but first a little about your mission, should you choose to accept it…
Space is big - really big! Mankind has only sent a few dozen successful robotic exploration missions into the solar system since the start of the space age, yet there are millions of places waiting to be explored including asteroids, moons, planets, ring systems and more.
Although space agencies do an amazing job launching high end exploration systems to interesting places, there are many more missions proposed than can ever be funded as high end missions are typically one offs that cost many many millions or even billions.
We need your help to provide another option - to explore space at scale needs a generation of interested minds with access to affordable exploration tools. By supporting this mission you can help make this happen and be the first of this new generation of space explorers.
We want to demonstrate that thousands of technical and non-technical people can design their own spacecraft, send these spacecraft into space, land some on a planet with an atmosphere (Earth this time) and send the rest a significant interplanetary distance to a body without an atmosphere (the Moon), and do useful science while having fun.
That’s bold, crazy some people might even say, but thanks to Moore's law and advances in flexible and printable electronics, it’s now possible and we need your help to prove it. If we succeed, one day every child may be able to have their own spacecraft to take part in robotic field trips around the solar system as a normal part of growing up - and you'll have helped make it happen!
The key to our approach are ‘Pocket Spacecraft’. These spacecraft (that can also function as landers and rovers to some degree), are small enough to fit in your pocket, both physically and financially - we’re talking the cost of a nice birthday present here.
Your Scout spacecraft
Your Pocket Spacecraft will be a Thin-Film Spacecraft / Lander / Rover ‘Scout’. These will be loaded by the thousand into an Interplanetary CubeSat Mothership which will fly to the body of interest, send out the Scouts to explore it, and relay their discoveries back to Earth and amongst each other.
Your Scout is a polyimide disc (a material used for flexible circuit boards, spacesuits and, of particular relevance for this application, high performance solar sails) held taut by a NiTi memory metal hoop that can also double as an antenna.
Solar cells, a thinned commercial off the shelf system-on-a-chip die (ground down with diamond sand paper) and support components, sensors and instruments are bonded or printed on the polyimide and protected with a conformal coating resulting in a spacecraft with an average thickness less than one twentieth of a millimetre (two thousandths of an inch), and a mass much less than a gram (a thirtieth of an ounce).
This thinness and lightness allows us to pack thousands per mothership, act as very small solar sails (when coated with a thin metal layer) to move about space, and potentially survive re-entry from orbit to the surface of bodies with suitable atmospheres.
Your Interplanetary CubeSat mothership
CubeSats revolutionised low cost access to space a decade ago when professors Bob Twiggs at Stanford and Jordi Puig-Suari at CalPoly created a 30x10x10cm,<5kg ‘3U’ spacecraft that could be launched inexpensively. 'CubeSat: An Unlikely Success Story' describing the CubeSat story can be watched here.
Since then, 70+ have been launched to low earth orbit by companies, space agencies and universities. Two years ago NASA funded the study of interplanetary CubeSats, last year more than 120 researchers gathered at our first Interplanetary CubeSat Workshop, and this year NASA announced an interplanetary CubeSat pathfinder.
Your mothership is a 3U CubeSat designed to inexpensively piggyback on pretty much any American, European, Russian or other rocket that supports CubeSats and is launched into a suitable starting orbit. 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. Think of it as interplanetary hitchhiking!
To allow us to hitch rides on rockets going to as many different orbits as possible (we're compatible with upcoming GTO, GEO, LLO and earth escape launches), about two thirds of the mothership is a modular propulsion system plus control and communications systems.
Propulsion systems we can drop in include a solar sail module (based on The Planetary Society/Stellar Exploration LightSail-1), which uses the force of light from the sun, and an electrolysis propulsion system, which breaks down liquid fuel (basically water) into hydrogen and oxygen using solar power and ignites it (like these systems from Cornell and Tethers Unlimited).
Which we use depends on the launch we book. If this KickStarter does spectacularly well, we would love to be able to launch CubeSats with each type of propulsion system. Your generous support can make this happen.
Radiation hardened/shielded avionics, solar cells and other subsystems to control the propulsion system, protect, release and photograph the Scouts, and to allow us to communicate with Earth and find where we are, complete the mothership.
We’ll fly a low energy/weak stability boundary transfer from our drop off point to the moon that doesn’t require much fuel but takes many months, unlike the days of the Apollo missions. This is the fundamental trade off of this mission - we can do interplanetary space exploration at very low cost, but everything takes much longer.
Navigation and communication at lunar distances is challenging. We are refurbishing two high performance ground stations for the project, and work with amateur radio enthusiasts, universities and commercial ground station providers and will apply to use systems such as the Deep Space Network and the Very Long Baseline Array.
If you are, or would like to be, a radio amateur, we'll show you how to communicate directly with your spacecraft in space when it is nearby using inexpensive UHF and S-band equipment. Communication at (cis-)lunar distances is more expensive (typically requiring 5-24m+ steerable dishes), but available to some clubs and enthusiasts.
We’re ready to do a complete demonstration mission, but need your help to fund it. If you’re up for it, here’s what we’d like to do…
Concept of operations
Your mission has five phases taking place over approximately thirty six months (subject to launch windows and delays) and we’d love you and your spacecraft to be involved every step of the way.
- Provide online tools to allow you to design/personalise your own Scout spacecraft and take part science and technology experiments using your web browser (~12 months)
- Build, test and load your Scout spacecraft onto the Interplanetary CubeSat Mothership while you watch how it's done and follow the progress of your Scout from laboratory to launch pad (~6 months)
- Launch the mothership into a suitable orbit with you following from your mission control. Once in orbit, the Earth Scouts will be released and test their ability to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and (hopefully) land in one piece, transmitting their location to aid recovery. We hope you’ll help us try to track and recover some of them (~3 months)
- We’ll then engage the motherships propulsion system and fly it and the Lunar Scouts on a Weak Stability Boundary (WSB) transfer (or similar) to an unstable Low Lunar Orbit (LLO). You’ll be able to track progress every step of the way (~6-12 months)
- Once we arrive, we’ll release and photograph the Lunar Scouts and then they will land (at very high speed…) on the moon (~0-3 months)
You and your spacecraft will have made history, and contributed to a system that we can then try flying elsewhere in the solar system such as Mars, Venus and to some asteroids.
So perhaps you’re asking…
How can I help make history and change space exploration for ever?
Sponsor one or more Scouts and encourage your friends and family to do the same!
This concept only works with mass participation and we need at least 2000, preferably 8000 or more people, willing to help make history and change space exploration forever.
The Scout we’ve designed for you is a solar sail disc less than 80mm (about three inches) in diameter (there's a <34mm/1.33" version for atmospheric re-entry only) and averages less than a twentieth of a millimetre (two thousandths of an inch) thick with solar cells, computer, radio transceiver and instruments. About three quarters of the Scout is available for you to customise. You don’t need any technical skills, but if you have them, we’d love you to help expand what Scouts can do.
At the simplest level, you upload a picture or message which will be printed on your own Scout spacecraft that will be sent into space. You decide where you would like your Scout to go – load it onto the Earth Scout deck, and soon after it is launched into space, we’ll release it into Earth’s atmosphere to attempt re-entry and recovery from the surface of the planet. Load it onto the Lunar Scout deck and we’ll try to send it to the moon and release it to deorbit to the surface of the moon.
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. If you are comfortable with Arduino level software development, you can run your own software on Software and Hardware Development Scouts. We’ll provide a web based integrated development environment (IDE) so you can write code, test on a Scout simulator and in a virtual solar system and upload your design to your own Software Development Scout.
If you are an educator or would like to support a school or club, the Software Development Scout Education Edition allows a group of up to 50 users with email addresses from the same institution to share a Software Development Scout and work on different types of customisation. The Scout can be placed in Crowd, Team or Earth/Lunar Scout customisation mode so users can customise their own part of the Scout or work together on a bigger design. Users have access to the online Scout software IDE, Scout simulator and virtual solar system allowing many software customisation ideas to be developed and one chosen to fly.
You can support a specific group or else we will provide a mechanism for people who have great ideas and people who wish to support them to connect. Your donation will be acknowledged on the outside of the Scout unless you wish to remain anonymous.
If you know others who might like their own Software Development Scouts then check out the Software Development Lunar Scout Party (a set of five Scouts, omnidirectional ground station and a swarm communications library) and work together on your own constellation or swarm of spacecraft.
Perhaps you’d like your Scout to be affiliated with others and share position and other mission data? If so, you can create or join a Scout Fleet just by pledging and filling in the fleet request form or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Hardware Development Scouts can be customised using the enhanced online IDE. You will be allocated 100 credits to specify what you would like to include from a palette of printable components, instruments, solar cell types, communications systems and other upgrades to the functionality of your Scout. The exact options and number of credits required will depend on the number of backers - more backers means more choice. With enough backers, if you want to add enhancements such as a printed fractal antenna, upgrade your optical communications from LED to laser diode, add GPS to your Earth Scout or add pop-up optics or memory metal actuators you'll be able to break out those credits and make it so!
We believe a key element of this idea is serious fun. By that we mean we believe that it’s OK to have fun while performing serious science and technology research. In fact, not only is it OK it’s our duty – if you are going to be generous enough to help us make this mission happen, then we should entertain and inform you throughout the mission.
We’re going to do this in several ways. First of all, everyone who participates in this mission is going to know almost everything about it every step of the way. We’re going to blog every week, release a video diary every month, have a webinar every quarter, document everything we do in sufficient detail for anyone to replicate it in the Mission Manual, a professionally produced e-book that will be released, chapter by chapter, in monthly instalments.
The Mission Manual will be both the definitive record of the mission which anyone will be able to use to replicate and reuse our work, as well as perhaps become a family heirloom documenting you and your families’ first steps into the solar system to treasure for generations to come.
We’re doing this responsibly, so we’ll show you how we make sure we follow the rules for planetary protection, space debris, spacecraft and radio licensing and more, and make all our paperwork and protocols available to all.
We’ve also teamed up with expert authors who have kindly agreed to make their books about various elements of the project available to you as part of your reward.
For example, we're pleased to be able to announce that Lou Friedman, Executive Director Emeritus of The Planetary Society has kindly agreed to allow us to give every backer an electronic copy of his book ‘StarSailing: Solar Sails and Interstellar Travel’ to explain the background and potential of the Scout's and one of the Interplanetary CubeSat Mothership propulsion systems. This book describes technical topics in an accessible way and we'll release it to all our backers, one chapter per month. We'll announce other titles as the mission progresses.
Online, we’ll put cameras in cleanrooms and labs when spacecraft are being built, in test facilities (such as thermal vacuum test chambers and on a parabolic flight), and in mission control.
When we release Scouts into space, a camera on the mothership will photograph them and send a picture from space back to you of your Scouts historic achievement, hopefully with a picture of your Scout in the foreground and the earth or the moon in the background.
We want to make our public labs (kindly hosted in the Watershed's digital creativity technology studio) available for all our backers to visit as often as they wish. We may have to limit daily numbers, and you will have to come to us at your own expense, but our goal is to make this one of the most open and accessible missions ever and to allow you to see your spacecraft in person before it flies if you wish.
Throughout the project you’ll be able to participate - hands on. You’ll be able to customise your spacecraft as described elsewhere, but we’ll also hold public events in places around the world such as digital cinemas, planetariums and science museums when key events happen. For example, when we are launched on our rocket, release the Earth Scouts to attempt re-entry, arrive at the moon and so on, and you’ll be able to see inside the mission, interact with mission controllers and be involved in your space mission.
You will have your very own mission control application for your spacecraft for Android and iOS that will allow you to keep an eye on your (and if they permit it, your friends) spacecraft every step of the way.
Students from around the world have worked on this app, building on work we created for the 2011 and 2012 European Space Agency Summer of Code in Space. The app allows you to monitor every aspect of your spacecraft and mission including telemetry, running apps, badges for online space exploration courses we'll run, ground station status, even where your spacecraft is in space - simply hold your phone up to the sky and the augmented reality feature will point it out for you!
We’ve taken great care to balance our team with techies and creatives. Our engineers see a re-entry and recovery from orbit test on a planet with an atmosphere; our games designers see a global treasure hunt of ‘find the Scout’ with prizes! Engineers – an optical telecommunications system; games designers – laser tag in spaaacceee.
Each group’s point of view is equally valid and we’re going to make sure we keep a healthy balance of fun and seriousness throughout the triumphs and setbacks that will inevitably occur throughout such an ambitious mission.
We have games and events designed to keep you entertained and informed throughout the three years this mission will likely last (we’re keeping most a secret as we want to frequently surprise and delight you!), and through innovations such as on-orbit app upgrades and collaborative science exchanges, we’ll be able to update these ideas, events and experiments as the mission progresses to incorporate our, and more importantly, your and the scientific and engineering communities innovations.
How your money will be used
We can’t do this mission without you as this is a high risk, high reward mission that is too unusual for traditional funders – we’ve tried!
If we raise enough money to do this mission, we’ll use it for:
- purchasing, building and shipping the rewards using in house facilities and print on demand suppliers
- purchasing components, assembling, integrating, and testing the spacecraft using low cost in house facilities and rent capital intensive equipment and facilities from places such as the Cornell Nanoscale Science and Technology Facility and the Cornell Center for Materials Research.
- documenting and placing the project in the public domain for anyone to replicate. We’ll publish online, in bookstores, by mail order and at scientific conferences as per ITAR definitions of public domain.
- curating events and the community throughout the mission using in house and external producers and event organisers
- apply for a free ESA or NASA CubeSat launch. Members of our team have written proposals awarded launches in the US and Europe and we qualify for both programs as currently structured.
all so we can build and launch your spacecraft and start exploring at scale.
So, that’s what we’d like to do with your help.
Can we do it without you? No!
Whether you sponsor a Virtual Scout or are Earth’s Ambassador, support a single Lunar Scout or an entire Lunar Scout Party, any and all support is valuable and this mission won’t happen without it.
We’re up for the challenge – we hope you are too.
Let’s kick start the personal interplanetary space age!
Thank you to all who have helped us get this far with their time, resources and inspiration:
Abdulla, Ad, Adam, Adrian, Alex H(1), Alex H(2), Alex N, Alonzo, Andrew H, Andrew K, Andrew V, Andy, Artur, Ashkay, Ashley, Ben M, Ben T, Beth, Bob, Caroline, Charles, Cheryl, Chris B, Chris C, Christina, Claire H, Claire R, Claud, Claudio, Colin, Craig, Dale, Dan, Daron, Dick, Dominic, Ed B, Ed G, Einav, Francis, Fraser, Giannis, Graham, Hannah, Heidi, Helen, Jacob, James, Jamie C, Jamie D, Jerry, Jim, Johan, Johannes, John, Jon D, Jon T, Jordi, Kevin, Kirsten, Laura J, Laura K, Lou, Lawrence, Mathieu, Matt G, Matt S, Melania, Merlin, Michelle, Michael, Mike C, Mike K, Mike S, Nadeem, Nancy, Nicholas, Pakizat, Radim, Ravi, Ritchie, Rob, Roger, Ronan, Rupert, Sammy, Sara, Şenol, Sergio, Seth, Simon B, Simon D, Stephen, Tanvir, Tom, Tomas, Vanessa, Verity, Victoria F, Victoria T, Waheed, Will, Willem, Woody, Zahra, Zoe, those who need to remain anonymous, and anyone accidentally forgotten!
Risks and challenges
Space exploration is an inherently risky and challenging undertaking and while we will do the best we can to mitigate the effect of potential problems, our ability to do so is dependent on how much money is raised by the KickStarter campaign if it is successful. Some potential problems cannot be managed however much we raise.
We've designed our terrestrial rewards to be mainly electronic to avoid production and shipping problems (and costs) and to minimise the potential for out of control production and/or shipping costs. Where we will ship physical rewards we have identified multiple suppliers with sufficient capacity to deliver them within the timescales we have stated. However we may be let down and have to find alternative suppliers. This shouldn't be too difficult but will take extra time.
You as a backer may be providing content such as images, software and hardware designs all of which it will be your responsibility to ensure are legal and meet community standards and guidelines that we will post when the online submission system goes live. We reserve the right to reject any image, software or hardware design for any reason and substitute it with a default image of our choosing. This is a family friendly project.
The extraterrestrial stuff is trickier. Very roughly, 50% of the CubeSats that have been launched have failed for reasons known and unknown. Interestingly, very roughly 50% of the extremely expensive interplanetary space missions have also failed. Failure is an option. You need to be comfortable with the fact that rockets blow up, spacecraft get delivered to the wrong orbit, launches are very often delayed, vested interests may try to frustrate the mission, unforeseen events and 'force majeure' occur, we can get unlucky with a micro-meteor or some other calamity out of our control that could halt the mission. We will not be able to offer refunds if such things occur, but we will do our best to deal with such problems if we can. We are also working with technology that is new and has not flown before and may not work when push comes to shove. We test for a reason and if testing brings up problems then we will have to rework and/or reengineer designs which will delay things. To minimise reputation and financial risk, we will not apply for or book a launch until we have flight hardware ready to go which may delay delivery dates.
We may choose (if we make our stretch goals) or need (if we don’t receive or qualify for a NASA, ESA or similar launch if the rules change) to purchase a launch or launches privately. That, for the sort of orbit that we need for the lunar part of the mission, will probably only be possible if we can raise at least nine hundred thousand dollars more than our minimum goal, otherwise we will have to keep applying for free launches until we get one. If we get into that situation then we might spread different elements of the mission across different launches to different orbits to increase the likelihood of selection.
Unfortunately the above are all the downside to being a pioneer and you should not back this project if you are not comfortable with accepting this risk. On the plus side, you will be part of a great adventure and if we do fail, our commitment to documenting every step of the process will allow us (or anyone else who wishes to try) to pick ourselves up, analyse what went wrong and try again, although we will almost certainly need to raise more money to do so.
Our minimum fundraising target is the absolute minimum we need to deliver a bare bones project using mostly volunteer labour and calling in every favour we have in the industry if everything goes more or less perfectly to plan. We'll be living on bread and gruel, we'll execute our basic test plan and won't be able to insure against things such as rockets blowing up. However, this is pretty much the standard description of a CubeSat project and is something we are comfortable doing if we have to. You should only participate if you are happy with this.
If we make our stretch goal of GBP 1.6 million (about USD 2.5 million at current exchange rates), then we can do things such as insure our rocket launch, buy a ride-share rocket launch to a preferred orbit (assuming current market prices don't change too much), do a lot more testing and have more full time people working on the project, all of which will improve, but not guarantee, our chances of success.
We also require that you hold us harmless against any loss or liabilities arising from your participation in this KickStarter campaign and acknowledge that everything regarding the Pocket Spacecraft: Mission to the Moon KickStarter project including the website and rewards are provided 'as is'.
Hopefully that hasn't scared you off and you are now fully informed of all the risks and are still ready to help change space exploration forever!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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