LightSail Project Schedule: Launch Date & Centimeter of Sail
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 sail.planetary.org.
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 https://lightsail-a-revolutionary-solar-sailing-spacecraft.backerkit.com/ 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!
Chief Development Officer