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Unlimited free energy from the sun will provide CubeSat propulsion and revolutionize access to space for low-cost citizen projects.
Unlimited free energy from the sun will provide CubeSat propulsion and revolutionize access to space for low-cost citizen projects.
23,331 backers pledged $1,241,615 to help bring this project to life.

LightSail Project Schedule: Launch Date & Centimeter of Sail

Posted by Bill Nye, CEO, The Planetary Society (Creator)
LightSail 2 at its recent DITL test.
LightSail 2 at its recent DITL test.

Over the past several months, we have posted updates to keep our backers up-to-date on the progress that LightSail 2 has been making as we go through the process of modifying the spacecraft based on the results of the test-flight last year, and preparing it for integration into Prox-1 for our future launch. Recently, this culminated in the largely successful DITL (day-in-the-life) test at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. It’s been exciting! 

In this post, we will shift gears and take a moment to share important information about two scheduling questions that have continued in the background: when are we expected to launch, and when will we get our Centimeter of Sail / membership?  

Launching on the Falcon Heavy

As we shared with backers last year, perhaps the only certain thing about any rocket launch is that it will be delayed. For this reason, launches are described as being scheduled “no earlier than” ________ (fill in the blank) date. Near the time of the launch, delays may be caused by poor weather or perhaps a hapless boat or airplane wandering into the launch area at an inopportune moment. Preceding the launch, delays may also be caused by equipment issues or issues with the payloads that are being integrated into the rocket. 

In our case, LightSail 2 is on the manifest for the first operational launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. Pretty cool, huh? Because we are on a new rocket that hasn't flown commercially, we are exposed to somewhat greater uncertainty. Before the operational flight must come a test flight, and that test flight hasn’t happened yet. Public sources indicate that the test launch may occur sometime this fall, perhaps in November or December. Given that schedule, clearly the commercial launch will occur later than that, and the schedule won’t likely be set until the results of the test launch are known and evaluated. 

So, when will LightSail 2 launch on the Falcon Heavy? Right now, we can only say “no earlier than” November 2016 with sometime in 2017 seeming most likely. Of course, when more is known, we will update you here and at  

Centimeter of Sail / Membership

Probably the most frustrating issue we’ve encountered in fulfilling pledges is producing the Centimeter of Sail certificate and accompanying one-year membership in The Planetary Society. A number of backers with IT backgrounds have messaged us saying why can't we just quickly ETL the data into our system and get going? 

Without going into inordinate detail, we would simply explain that there are two reasons: first, that we need to have the data moved into our constituent relationship management software so that we can service the memberships; and second, that the data output from the crowdfunding system is incredibly messy. Because we can’t skip getting the data into our system, the data integrity issues are all the more significant. 

What does that messy data look like? Let me share some examples. Because the Name field wasn’t broken down into First and Last Name fields, this field sometimes have two first names entered, but no last name. Or, names put in last name first, first name last (sometimes with a comma, sometimes without) as well as first names first and last name last. Names in foreign languages with different first name / last name conventions. In other cases, there’s no address. Or a partial address. Then, there are also occasional foreign characters that won’t transfer to our system and for which we have uncertain or no translation (we aren’t even sure how the foreign characters were able to be input). Backers using more than one email and account (which now have to be merged). And more. 

What this meant for us was having someone go through all 23,332 records mostly by hand (though we wrote scripts where we could) to reformat them and, where possible, make them more complete. We have now completed our initial work, and we have 13,187 new records clean and ready-to-go. We have another 3,120 records ready for import that are for people already in our data base (they are prior members and donors!). That gives us a total of 16,307 records for which we are now able to produce Centimeter of Sail Certificates and/or fulfill the membership (for those backers who are both eligible and who are not already members). 

Not yet ready are 5,554 records for which the address is absent or incomplete. Many of these backers supported us at levels below the Centimeter of Sail level, but some are higher level backers, too. Another 510 records failed to complete their pledge. And finally, 961 records have complex issues tied to language or other problems that continue to take time for individual research. 

So, what's next? 

1.  All memberships for those records that are ready will be effective beginning in June 2016. And, in recognition of the long wait while we worked through these issues, the memberships will be extended beyond one year to a period ending after LightSail 2’s primary mission. Based on our original expectations about the flight schedule, this means that our new backer-members will be able to follow this project through to its completion. If the mission launches in spring 2017 and lasts from three to six months (our current projection), then the memberships would likely expire about 18 months from now. However, if there are further delays in the Falcon Heavy launch, memberships will automatically be extended so that the membership could end up lasting upwards of 2 years or more. 

2.  For those backer-members now in our system, we will proceed with the production of the Centimeter of Sail Certificates. Our production partner is ready to go, though it will take some weeks to print and assemble that certificates and letters, and for them to be delivered in the mail (and note that international backer-members may experience longer time for delivery). 

3.  Under separate cover, we will send the same group of new backer-members our last two editions of The Planetary Report magazine, compliments of The Society. This will help you to get caught up on the latest happenings here at Society HQ. 

4.  For the problematic groups still remaining, we will continue to work on the data issues and plan for another group of Centimeter of Sail certificates to be sent out when they are ready—likely later this summer. 

We also want you to know that we have noted these issues that arose and we will engage our partners at BackerKit and Amplifier so that the next time we offer a Kickstarter project, we don't have the same experience of delays. We will work with them on data structure and standards to minimize the post-campaign effort and to allow us to quickly transfer the data into our system. And we will use a single-use coupon code system to allow people to redeem their memberships directly in our system. 

While many of you have quite rightly expressed frustration, one of the gratifying things about the project are the emails we receive from those of you who understand that we are a small non-profit that is taking on over-size tasks because we believe so passionately in them, and you are focused on the success of the project itself rather than the delay in the Centimeter of Sail. To all of you, we extend our heartfelt apologies and our gratitude for your patience. 

BackerKit Surveys Still Incomplete for Many!

And while we are on the subject of incomplete backer information, it’s a great time to remind the 1,401 backers who have not yet completed their surveys to do so ASAP.  

We are still sending our periodic reminders via BackerKit, but if you have lost your survey invitation, you can easily recover it by going to and following the instructions there.  

While we very much want to fulfill all of the promised rewards, we will soon look at setting a final deadline for fulfillment of rewards. After that date, we will no longer guarrantee your original reward and may, instead, offer late backers some other Planetary Society swag in lieu of the original offer. Watch for a future update with that deadline. But for now, please get over the BackerKit and complete your surveys! 


Richard Chute
Chief Development Officer


Bo Mertz, Maarten Leo Daalder, and 75 more people like this update.


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    1. lifecycled on

      Given all the manual work on data integrity is it worth pushing Kickstarter to improve their interface? Seems like issues worth fixing for everyone that launches on Kickstarter.

    2. Styggron on

      Thank you for the update :)

    3. Taylor Genovese on

      If we need to update our address, who should we contact?

    4. Chris Maka on

      Thank you for the update. The lack of understanding and communication has been the only frustrating part of this...I don't mind and understand the delays, but it was not knowing what was going on that was so disappointing. But, like all good scientists, I'm sure you have learned a lot of valuable (and mildly painful) lessons that will help if you do another Kickstarter in the future.

    5. Bill Nye, CEO, The Planetary Society 2-time creator on

      @Craig - yes, Breakthrough Starshot is a totally cool, but they are looking at getting their wafer-size computer into interstellar space over the next generation, so I really hope we beat him! Actually, our Executive Director, Emeritus, Lou Friedman, is a consultant on the project and we love that they are using solar sailing for their fundamental approach. -Richard

    6. Bill Nye, CEO, The Planetary Society 2-time creator on

      @John Dalton - thank you, that's a great article! I'll pass it along. -Richard

    7. Michael Rowe on

      Thanks for the details on this post! As a long term supporter of the Planetary society, the membership is not an issue for me... I am very proud of the Society for all their work.. And can't wait for the next mission!

    8. John Dalton on

      For my part, I've been really happy with the level of detail in these updates. Keep up the good work!

      I'm assuming whoever is dealing with the mess around validating names has already seen this article, but it's entertaining (and possibly even thought-provoking) reading for anyone who hasn't encountered it before: "Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names"

    9. Missing avatar

      Neil Lindholm on

      I checked my survey but my address has been locked and I can't change it. I am moving in a few weeks and won't be able to set up mail forwarding ( I live in China). How do I update my mailing address? If you send anything to my current address, I will never get it.

    10. craig

      Thanks for the update. I'm actually rooting for the 2017 launch, since I won't be able to attend Nov/Dec timeframe, but I'm hoping you get Lightsail up and going before Hawking gets his to another star 8^)

    11. Bill Nye, CEO, The Planetary Society 2-time creator on

      @Jim McElroy - our apologies! You apparently got a mailing not because you were in Kickstarter (or we wouldn't have asked you for a membership!); rather because you ended up in one of our normal member acquisition campaigns (this has happened to a few other people, too). Ironically, if you HAD been in our system as a member, you wouldn't have received such a mailing. So, I do apologize for your ending up getting a membership solicitation while you were in a pending mode with us.

      As for the time it will take to send out the Certificates, please remember that they have to be printed with your customized message on it, and the centimeter of mylar has to be hand-applied to each, and it has to be collated with your individual membership card and then mailed to you. These are done by our mail house in groups. We've had these materials designed in advance so that we have everything ready to go as soon as we got to this point. But, there's nothing magical or technological about this part of the process--just good old fashioned hand work and it will take a short while to accomplish.

    12. RJDiogenes on

      Haha. I've spent half my life dealing with data-crunching nightmares, so I can only smile wryly in sympathy. The important thing is that the project happens and happens successfully. The perks are only perks. I appreciate all the effort being applied to our nice toys, but no gray hairs on our behalf, please. :)

    13. Matt Beckman on

      For the problem data, I would make a web app that makes a "best guess" for the name and address, sends an email to the user for confirmation, and then update each entry as users confirm it.

    14. Missing avatar

      Jim McElroy on

      One more thing since I am being an arse here. Why start the memberships in June when by your own admission there is no set time for any kind of materials to arrive? That seems unfair to us both, why not wait until you have things in hand and then start. Otherwise it seems we are being penalized for a delay not of our making. Just saying

    15. Missing avatar

      Jim McElroy on

      OK so let me be the bad guy here...first I have received two separate mailings from you asking me to join the society, so I cannot see where there is any data problem since you seem to have no problem finding me. Maybe with others, no doubt, but a large group of us seem to be OK. Second your last update promised a time frame of some kind, I do not call "several weeks" a real time frame, it sounds as if you are still shooting in the dark leaving the door open for who knows how long. I think you guys over reached and now you are paying the price. You should remember we did not get this kind of room when we pledged. It is going on nearly six months overdue with no end in sight. I for one am not really impressed. So I am kind of tuning out here, I still expect what I paid for, I am just kind of loosing interest in the whole thing. I wish you well, and maybe someday I can post a I finally got it post. Lets hope.

    16. Tasha Turner

      Thanks for detailing the nightmare you are having with the data. I feel for you. Hopefully backers can be more understanding know they know what the holdup is. Clear communication makes a big difference. The more we know the more understanding we can be.

    17. Nico G-i on

      What do we do if our address has changed? It has been so long since I submitted my mailing info.

    18. Missing avatar

      Del Merritt on

      Indeed, a nice update.
      It turns out that I get to be part of the data mess: my existing Planetary Society membership is different enough from what I provided to the BackerKit survey that I am almost certainly duplicated for the Kickstarter membership. I have sent a note to trying to explain what's up. Who in the LightSail team should also be informed so that my headache gift to you can be relieved?

      Good luck!

    19. Daniel Bradley on

      Wowzers, this dataset sounds hellish!! Thanks for sticking with it and sending out an update. Really enjoying following progress on the entire project. :)

    20. Emilio Molina Cazorla on

      This is about rockets and science and stuff. There is no funny if everything goes right at the first try. Keep on fighting! My unconditional push for the project :)

    21. Joseph J Marcus on

      As a person who deals with student data (Including state assessments that are bubble-form) I feel your pain.

      Thanks for the update! And my props (and condolences) to your data team. My sisters and brothers, you are not alone!

    22. Ken Murphy on

      I've been a vocal critic for of how this been handled, but Richard, this is exactly the update I was hoping for. My sincere thanks for your efforts.