Russian Crowdfunded Satellite May Soon Become Brightest “Star” in the Sky

Illustration of the “Beacon” inflating from its canister after reaching orbit. The Mayak Project used the Russian version of Kickstarter called Boomstarter to fund the project. Credit: / Mayak Project
Artist’s view of the proposed Mayak (Beacon) satellite fully unfurled and orbiting Earth. Credit: / Mayak Project

We may soon look up and see a satellite brighter than the space station and even Venus gliding across the night sky if a Russian crowdfunding effort succeeds. An enthusiastic team of students from Moscow University of Mechanical Engineering are using Boomstarter, the Russian equivalent of Kickstarter, to raise the money needed to build and launch a pyramid-shaped satellite made of highly reflective material they’re calling Mayak, Russian for “Beacon”.

Young engineers at Moscow University explain the Mayak Project

To date they’ve collected more than $23,000 or 1.7 million rubles. Judging from the video, the team has built the canister that would hold the satellite (folded up inside) and performed a high-altitude test using a balloon. If funding is secured, Beacon is scheduled to launch on a Soyuz-2 rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the second quarter of this year.

Illustration of the “Beacon” unfurling from its canister when it reaches orbit. The Mayak Project used the Russian version of Kickstarter called Boomstarter to fund the project. Credit: / Mayak Project
Illustration of the “Beacon” inflating from its canister after reaching orbit. The Mayak Project used the Russian version of Kickstarter called Boomstarter to fund the project. Credit: / Mayak Project

Once in orbit, Beacon will inflate into a pyramid with a surface area of 172 square feet (16 square meters). Made of reflective metallized film 20 times thinner than a human hair, the satellite is expected to become the brightest man-made object in orbit ever. That title is currently held by the International Space Station which can shine as brightly as magnitude -3 or about three times fainter than Venus. The brightest satellites, the Iridiums, can flare to magnitude -8 (as bright as the crescent moon) but only for a few seconds before fading back to invisibility. They form a “constellation” of  some 66 satellites that provide data and voice communications.

A student at the Mayak Lab in Moscow describes the container used to hold the reflective "Beacon" satellite. Credit:
A student at the Mayak Lab in Moscow describes the container used to hold the reflective “Beacon” satellite. Credit: / Mayak Project

A concurrently-developed mobile app would allow users to know when Beacon would pass over a particular location. The students hope to achieve more than just track a bright, moving light across the sky. According to their website, the goal of the project is the “popularization of astronautics and space research in Russia, as well as improving the attractiveness of science and technology education among young people.” They want to show that almost anyone can build and send a spacecraft into orbit, not just corporations and governments.

Further, the students hope to test aerodynamic braking in the atmosphere and find out more about the density of air at orbital altitudes. Interested donors can give anywhere from 300 rubles (about $5) up 300,000 ($4,000). The more money, the more access you’ll have to the group and news of the satellite’s progress; the top donor will get invited to watch the launch on-site.

Moscow University students release the satellite on a test run. Credit: / Mayak Project
Liftoff! Moscow University students release the satellite on a test run. Credit: / Mayak Project

Once finished with the Mayak Project, the team wants to built another version that uses that atmosphere for braking its speed and returning it — and future satellites — safely back to Earth without the need for retro-rockets.

I think all these goals are worthy, and I admire the students’ enthusiasm. I only hope that satellite launching doesn’t become so cheap and popular that we end up lighting up the night sky even further. What do you think?

Africa’s First Mission to the Moon Announced

Africa2Moon will be Africa's foist venture into space. Credit:

Africa is home to 7 out of 10 of the world’s fastest-growing economies. It’s population is also the “youngest” in the world, with 50% of the population being 19 years old or younger. And amongst these young people are scores of innovators and entrepreneurs who are looking to bring homegrown innovation to their continent and share it with the outside world.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with the #Africa2Moon Mission, a crowdfunded campaign that aims to send a lander or orbiter to the Moon in the coming years.

Spearheaded by the Foundation for Space Development – a non-profit organization headquartered in Capetown, South Africa – the goal of this project is to fund the development of a robotic craft that will either land on or establish orbit around the Moon. Once there, it will transmit video images back to Earth, and then distribute them via the internet into classrooms all across Africa.

In so doing, the project’s founders and participants hope to help the current generation of Africans realize their own potential. Or, as it says on their website: “The #Africa2Moon Mission will inspire the youth of Africa to believe that ‘We Can Reach for the Moon’ by really reaching for the moon!”

Through their crowdfunding and a social media campaign (Twitter hashtag #Africa2Moon) they hope to raise a minimum of $150,000 for Phase I, which will consist of developing the mission concept and associated feasibility study. This mission concept will be developed collaboratively by experts assembled from African universities and industries, as well as international space experts, all under the leadership of the Mission Administrator – Professor Martinez.

The ZACube was one of several cubesats launched with the help of the South African Space Council. Credit: SA Space Council
The ZACube-1 was one of several cubesats launched under the direction of the South African Space Council. Here, an artist’s rendering of the cubesat pays homage to Nelson Mandela. Credit: SA Space Council

Martinez is a veteran when it comes to space affairs. In addition to being the convener for the space studies program at the University of Cape Town, he is also the Chairman of the South African Council for Space Affairs (the national regulatory body for space activities in South Africa). He is joined by Jonathan Weltman, the Project Administrator, who is both an aeronautical engineer and the current CEO of the Foundation for Space Development.

Phase I is planned to run from Jan to Nov 2015 and will be the starting point for Phase II of #Africa2Moon, which will be a detailed mission design. At this point, the #Africa2Moon mission planners and engineering team will determine precisely what will be needed to see it through to completion and to reach the Moon.

Beyond inspiring young minds, the program also aims to promote education in the four major fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (aka STEM). Towards this end, they have pledged to commit 25% of all the funds they raise towards STEM education through a series of #Africa2Moon workshops for educators and students. In addition, numerous public engagement activities will be mounted in partnership with other groups committed to STEM education, science awareness, and outreach.

Africa is so often thought of as a land in turmoil – a place that is perennially plagued by ethnic violence, dictators, disease, drought, and famine. This popular misconception belies very positive facts about the growing economy of world’s second-largest and second-most populous continent.

That being said, all those working on the #Africa2Moon project hope it will enable future generations of Africans to bridge the humanitarian and economic divide and end Africa’s financial dependence on the rest of the world. It is also hoped that the mission will provide a platform for one or more scientific experiments, contribute to humankind’s knowledge of the moon, and form part of Africa’s contribution to global space exploration activities.

The project’s current list of supporters include the SpaceLab at the University of Cape Town, The South African Space Association, Women in Aerospace Africa, The Cape Town Science Centre, Space Commercial Services Group, Space Advisory Company, and the Space Engineering Academy. They have also launched a seed-funding campaign drive through its partnership with the UN Foundation’s #GivingTuesday initiative.

For more information, go to the Foundation’s website, or check out the mission’s Indiegogo or CauseVox page.

Further Reading: Foundation for Space Development

Beam a Message to Mars and Support Space Research and Exploration

Uwingu's latest fund-raising project is 'Beam Me to Mars.' Image courtesy Uwingu.

A new project from Uwingu to help address funding shortages for researchers, scientists, educators and students allows people from Earth to give a global “shout?out” to planet Mars. The project is called “Beam Me to Mars,” and it celebrates the 50th anniversary of the launch of f NASA’s Mariner 4 mission, the first successful mission to Mars.

“Nothing like this has ever been done,” Uwingu CEO Alan Stern told Universe Today. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, and, I think, historic.”

The messages will be beamed to Mars on November 28 using high-powered commercial transmitters owned by Universal Space Network (USN), a company that communicates daily with spacecraft in Earth orbit. They will transmit the Beam Me messages from antennas in Hawaii, Alaska, and Australia.

Since this is a fund-raiser, messages cost between $5 and $100, depending on how elaborate you’d like your message to be (and how much you’d like to give to support Uwingu’s goal to help fund research and space exploration.) Half of the money will go towards The Uwingu Fund that creates space research and education grants. The rest pays for transmission costs to Mars, and things like internet services, Uwingu product development and Uwingu business operations.

The messages can be as simple as just sending your name, or even include a longer message or images. These aren’t private messages, however. The entire message database will be searchable (no charge for that), and will be socially sharable, by anyone on the internet.

Who will get the messages? Well, since there are just robots there (as far as we know), no Martians will receive the messages. But Uwingu will also share messages with those who make decisions on space-related topics back here on Earth. “All of the messages will be hand delivered to Congress, to NASA, and to the United Nations,” says the Uwingu website.

Already, numerous space leaders and personalities like astronaut Chris Hadfield, authors Homer Hickam and Dava Sobel, Mars rover PI Steve Squyres, NASA GRAIL PI Maria Zuber, and Planetary Society President Jim Bell have penned messages to Mars as part of the project.

Uwingu says the radio beam from Earth will spread out to encompass all of Mars — just in case…

“We expect “Beam Me to Mars” to generate a lot of interest — as well as new funds for Uwingu space research and education grants we will make from a portion of the proceeds,” said Stern.

For more information see the Uwingu Beam Me to Mars website, and their FAQs about the project.

Contact With 36-Year Old Spacecraft Results in Dancing, Hugs. Now Comes Even Bigger Challenge

A graphic illustrating the ISEE-3 spacecraft's history. Courtesy Tim Reyes.

What is it like to make contact with a 36-year old dormant spacecraft?

“The intellectual side of you systematically goes through all the procedures but you really end up doing a happy dance when it actually works,” Keith Cowing told Universe Today. Cowing, most notably from NASA, and businessman Dennis Wingo are leading a group of volunteer engineers that are attempting to reboot the International Sun-Earth Explorer (ISEE-3) spacecraft after it has traveled 25 billion kilometers around the Solar System the past 30 years.

Its initial mission launched in 1978 to study Earth’s magnetosphere, and the spacecraft was later repurposed to study two comets. Now, on its final leg of a 30-plus year journey and heading back to the vicinity of Earth, the crowdfunding effort ISEE-3 Reboot has been working to reactivate the hibernating spacecraft since NASA wasn’t able to provide any funds to do so.

More Details: No turning back, NASA ISEE-3 Spacecraft Returning to Earth after a 36 Year Journey

The team awakened the spacecraft by communicating from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, using a donated transmitter. While most of the team has been in Puerto Rico, Cowing is back at home in the US manning the surge of media attention this unusual mission has brought.

Those at Arecibo are now methodically going through all the systems, figuring out what the spacecraft can and can’t do.

“We did determine the spin rate of spacecraft is slightly below what it should be,” Cowing said, “but the point there is that we’re now understanding the telemetry that we’re getting and its coming back crystal clear.”

For you tech-minded folks, the team determined the spacecraft is spinning at 19.16 rpm. “The mission specification is 19.75 +/- 0.2 rpm. We have also learned that the spacecraft’s attitude relative to the ecliptic is 90.71 degrees – the specification is 90 +/- 1.5 degrees. In addition, we are now receiving information from the spacecraft’s magnetometer,” Cowing wrote in an update on the website.

The next task will be looking at the propulsion system and making sure they can actually fire the engines for a trajectory correction maneuver (TCM), currently targeted for June 17.

One thing this TCM will do is to make sure the spacecraft doesn’t hit the Moon. Initial interactions with the ISEE-3 from Arecibo showed the spacecraft was not where the JPL ephemeris predicted it was going to be.

“That’s a bit troublesome because if you look at the error bars, it could hit Moon, or even the Earth, which is not good,” Cowing said, adding that they’ve since been able to refine the trajectory and found the ephemeris was not off as much as initially thought, and so such an impact is quite unlikely.

“However, it’s not been totally ruled out, — as NASA would say it’s a not a non-zero chance,” Cowing said. “The fact that it was not where it was supposed to be shows there were changes in its position. But assuming we can fire the engines when we want to, it shouldn’t be a problem. As it stands now, if we didn’t do anything, the chance of it hitting the Moon is not zero. But it’s not that likely.”

But the fact that the predicted location of the spacecraft is only off by less than 30,000 km is actually pretty amazing.

Dennis Wingo wrote this on the team’s website:

Consider this, the spacecraft has completed almost 27 orbits of the sun since the last trajectory maneuver. That is 24.87 billion kilometers. They are off course by less than 30,000 km. I can’t even come up with an analogy to how darn good that is!! That is almost 1 part in ten million accuracy! We need to confirm this with a DSN ranging, but if this holds, the fuel needed to accomplish the trajectory change is only about 5.8 meters/sec, or less than 10% of what we thought last week!

We truly stand on the shoulders of steely eyed missile men giants..

Dennis Wingo and ISEE-3 Reboot engineers at Arecibo. Image courtesy ISEE-3 Reboot.
Dennis Wingo and ISEE-3 Reboot engineers at Arecibo. Image courtesy ISEE-3 Reboot.

In 1982, NASA engineers at Goddard Space Flight Center, led by Robert Farquhar devised the maneuvers needed to send the spacecraft ISEE-3 out of the Earth-Moon system. It was renamed the International Cometary Explorer (ICE) to rendezvous with two comets – Giacobini-Zinner in 1985 and Comet Halley in 1986.

“Bob Farquhar and his team initially did it with pencils on the back of envelopes,” Cowing said, “so it is pretty amazing. And we’re really happy with the trajectory because we’ll need less fuel – we have 150 meters per second of fuel available, and we’ll only need about 6 meters per second of maneuvering, so that will give us a lot of margin to do the other things in terms of the final orbit, so we’re happy with that. But we have to fire the engines first before we pat ourselves on the back.”

And that’s where the biggest challenge of this amateur endeavor lies.

ISEE-3 Reboot Project mission patch. Image courtesy ISEE-3 Reboot.
ISEE-3 Reboot Project mission patch. Image courtesy ISEE-3 Reboot.

“The biggest challenge will be getting the engines to fire,” Cowing said. “The party’s over if we can’t get it to do that. The rest will be gravy. So that’s what we’re focusing on now.”

After the June 17 TCM, the next big date is August 10, when the team will attempt to put the spacecraft in Earth orbit and then resume its original mission that began back in 1978 – all made possible by volunteers and crowdfunding.

We’ll keep you posted on this effort, but follow the ISEE-3 Reboot Twitter feed, which is updated frequently and immediately after anything happens with the spacecraft. Also, for more detailed updates, check out the SpaceCollege website.

Uwingu Hopes to Raise $10 million for Scientists and Educators with Mars Crater Naming Venture

Uwingu's latest project goes to Mars. Via Uwingu.

The latest out-of-the-box idea to help address funding shortages for researchers, scientists, educators and students goes to Mars. Uwingu has launched an update to their web site with a new project that gives people the opportunity to name over 550,000 craters on Mars. The company hopes to raise over $10M for helping to fund space science and education.

“If we’re successful, it’ll by far be the largest such private sector grant fund in history,” said scientist and Uwingu CEO Alan Stern.

Starting today, the public can get involved in Mars exploration by helping to create Uwingu’s new Mars map, with names for all the approximately 550,000 unnamed, scientifically cataloged craters on Mars.

Just like how Apollo astronauts have named landing site landmarks during their Moon missions or how Mars scientists name features they encounter on robotic missions, Uwingu says, “Now it’s your turn.”

Examples of craters various craters on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona.
Examples of craters various craters on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona.

Not only are there craters to name, but you can also help name the map grid rectangles of all the Districts and Provinces in Uwingu’s “address system” – which they say is the first ever address system for Mars.

Prices for naming craters vary, depending on the size of the crater, and begin at $5 dollars. For each crater you purchase and name, Uwingu gives you a shareable Web link and a naming certificate.

Previously, Uwingu has had naming contests for exoplanets, which created a bit of controversy between them and the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which usually heads up naming celestial objects and features.

Stern told Universe Today that he doesn’t think they’ll have any issues with the IAU over this latest venture.
“We’re not going to be stamping names on their maps,” Stern said via phone. “We’re just opening up a public feature naming for the first time. We don’t think we own it, we don’t think anyone owns it. We’re just creating a new application.”

Stern added that in 50 years of Mars exploration, only about 15,000 features have been named. “There are 550,000 craters alone that are begging for names,” and hinted that Uwingu will have opportunities to name other Martian features in the future.

Stern and the rest of the Uwingu team – which includes space notables such as space historian and author Andrew Chaikin, planet hunter Dr. Geoff Marcy, planetary scientist and CEO of the Planetary Science Institute, Dr. Mark Sykes, former Executive Director of the Planetary Society Dr. Louis Friedman, and author Dr. David Grinspoon — know that the names likely won’t officially be approved by the IAU, but said they will be similar to the names given to features on Mars by the mission science teams (such as Mt. Sharp on Mars –the IAU-approved name is Aeolis Mons) or even like Pike’s Peak, a mountain in Colorado which was named by the public, in a way, as early settlers started calling it that, and it soon became the only name people recognized.

“Mars scientists and Apollo astronauts have named features on the Red Planet and the Moon without asking for the IAU’s permission,” Stern said. In the past, Stern has said that he realizes having people pay to suggest names for with no official standing may be controversial, and he’s willing to take the chance – and the heat – to try a innovative ways to provide funding in today’s climate of funding cuts.

“We’re trying to do a public good,” he said. “It’s still the case that nobody in this company gets paid. We really want to create a new lane on that funding highway for people who are out of luck due to budget cuts. This is how we’re how we’re trying to change the world for a little better.”

Uwingu’s procedure in the past is that they put half of the money they make into a fund to be given out as grants, and since they are a commercial company, the rest of the money helps pay the their bills.

Check out the crater naming site on Uwingu’s website here, and an FAQ about the project here.

Here’s Your Chance To Fund A New Asteroid Search

Painting of Asteroid 2012 DA14. © David A. Hardy/

The crowdfunding campaign is off to a slow start, but the PHASST-1 telescope still has more than a month to reach its $88,816 (€65,000) goal of deploying telescopes devoted to searching for near-Earth asteroids.

The Potentially Hazardous Asteroid Search & Tracking Telescope, as the acronym stands for, will begin with two telescopes: an f/1 Baker-Nunn camera near Arequipa, Peru and a 50cm f/3.6 astrograph near Ager, Spain.

“Even though PHASTT-1 will have a large field of view compared to most telescopes (~5x) of a similar aperture, competing in the area of asteroid search is difficult due to a large number of teams doing similar work. Because of this, we are designing PHASTT-1 as not only a search telescope but also as a followup and characterization instrument — two key areas where we can make an impact,” the IndieGogo campaign page states.

“Follow-up observations are important as they help us refine the orbits of potentially hazardous objects and narrow the uncertainties around how close an asteroid will come to the Earth. Characterization of asteroids is also important as it helps us understand the physical properties of asteroids. This understanding critical if we want to know how to best deal with a ‘rogue’ asteroid that is on an impact course or if we just want to know which asteroids would make for interesting near-Earth exploration targets.”

The principles including astronomers, a technology consultant and a laser ranging specialist. You can read more technical details on the IndieGogo campaign page or the PHASTT-1 website. If they get the money they need, they aim to be operational by the middle of next year. The campaign completes Nov. 26.

‘Space Selfie’ Telescope Could Hunt Alien Planets … If It Raises A Cool $2M

Example of an orbital 'selfie' that Planetary Resources' ARKYD telescope could provide to anyone who donates to their new Kickstarter campaign. Credit: Planetary Resources.

A crowdfunded telescope — best known for offering “space selfies” for backers as an incentive to send money — is now considering a search for alien planets.

Planetary Resources Inc. (the proposed asteroid miners) announced a new “stretch goal” for its asteroid-hunting Arkyd-100 telescope.

If the company can raise $2 million — double its original goal — it promises to equip the Arkyd telescope to look at star systems for exoplanets. The project is still short the $1 million required to receive any money, but the target appears to be close enough now to give Planetary Resources confidence that more funds will come for new initiatives.

The motivation for planet hunting was mechanical trouble besetting the famous Kepler space telescope. Kepler recently lost the second of its four reaction wheels, devices that are used to stabilize the telescope in space as it seeks alien worlds.

Artist's conception of the Kepler Space Telescope. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Artist’s conception of the Kepler Space Telescope. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Because Kepler needs at least three reaction wheels to point towards targets, its future is uncertain. Some planet searching is still possible with ground-based observatories, however.

“With NASA’s recent equipment failure on the Kepler telescope (RIP, Kepler!), our search for extrasolar planets nearly came to a grinding halt. If we can meet our stretch goal, we can resume some of this progress by enhancing the Arkyd,” Arkyd organizers stated on their Kickstarter campaign website.

“We’re partnering with exoplanet researchers at MIT [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology] to equip citizen scientists like YOU with the tools to join a search that’s captivated us for generations.”

Arkyd would use two methods to hunt down planets:

Transiting, or seeing the dip in a star’s brightness when a planet passes in front of it;

Gravitational microlensing, or finding planets by measuring how the gravity of the star (and its planets) distorts light from stars and galaxies behind.

With 19 days to go, Arkyd is at about $857,000 of its preliminary $1 million goal that it must reach to receive any money.

If it can raise $1.3 million, Planetary Resources proposes to build a ground station at an undisclosed “educational partner” that would double the download speed of data from the orbiting observatory.

The project has more than 9,500 backers. Two more stretch goals will be revealed if Arkyd receives 11,000 backers and 15,000 backers, Planetary Resources stated.

More information on the Arkyd Kickstarter campaign is here.

Golden Spike Still Needs Your Help to Get to the Moon

Concept of a Golden Spike Co. lunar lander

Last December the Golden Spike Company announced its plans to enable private-sector lunar exploration missions which would be feasible, profitable, and possible — even without government funding. Comprised of veteran space program executives, managers, and engineers, Golden Spike intends to stand on the shoulders of current space technology to develop lunar transportation systems that can be used by agencies and private interests worldwide to get humans back to the Moon… but they still need your help getting the word out.

“We’re running an Indiegogo campaign as an experiment in public outreach and interest in human lunar expeditions,” Golden Spike CEO and planetary scientist Alan Stern explained to Universe Today in an email.

Recently Golden Spike started a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo with the goal of raising $240,000 for international outreach (that’s a dollar for every mile to the Moon!) but, with only 16 10 days left in the campaign, only $9,400 $12,134 has been contributed.* While dollar-for-mile that’s still farther than any humans have traveled into space since Apollo, it’s unfortunately quite short of their goal.

CEO and famed planetary scientist Alan Stern blames himself.

“Simply put, we didn’t put the right people and resources on this Indiegogo campaign,” Stern wrote in an announcement on the Indiegogo site on April 9.

But despite the small amount of time remaining, he’s not giving up.

“We’re going to take advantage of the press of time left — just 16 days — to reach out to the broader public about people they can be a part of a historic new era of human lunar exploration,” Stern writes.

“To do that, you’ll be seeing Golden Spike in the press quite a bit more the next two weeks.”

And he’s asking for your continued help to not just contribute, but also to get the word out.

“Speak to friends and colleagues. Message on sites like Twitter and Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn. Send emails. Heck, put up signs and hand out flyers! We’re in the final phases of this campaign, ask people to join in. Let them know why you joined. Tell them their participation will make a huge difference… If we do this right, we can succeed.”

While contributions to the Golden Spike campaign won’t be used to launch rockets or build Moon bases, they will be used to reach out to potential international partners and show them that people are indeed interested in getting people back to the Moon… proven by the fact that they’ll even put some of their own money into the venture.

Small donations, large donations… each contribution no matter the size shows that people will invest in a future of lunar exploration. Put some “skin in the game,” if you will.

Click here to contribute to the Golden Spike campaign. And even if you can’t contribute financially, help get the word out. Share this article, tell people about the campaign, let them know that our future on the Moon doesn’t have to rely on fickle government funding or be subject to catastrophic budget cuts.

We got there before, we can get there again. The Moon awaits.

“Make the point that 40-plus years of waiting for governments to do this for us showed that the people who want humans to explore the Moon have to take personal action if we want it.”

– Alan Stern, planetary scientist and Golden Spike Company CEO

Read more about the Golden Spike Company mission here.

PS: Be sure to email [email protected] when you donate to the campaign and let them know your name, city, and state, and who referred you to donate (in this case, Universe Today.) They’re giving prizes for the top US state, top country, and top referrals!

(*Article updated on April 15.)

Lunar Exploration Company Offers the Public a Chance to Participate

Golden Spike: more human bootprints on the Moon, and you can help. Credit: Golden Spike.

Last December, when a private space exploration company named Golden Spike announced they are working to offer human expeditions to the Moon by 2020, they also said wanted to bring public along as an integral part of the company’s mission. Since their initial announcement, the Golden Spike team says they’ve been inundated with emails, letters and social media posts from people wanting to know how to take part, and how they could help speed the development of human lunar expeditions.

Today, The Golden Spike Company — which hopes to generate sustainable human lunar exploration with a series of commercial expeditions for nations, corporations, and individuals — began a 10-week Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to enable a “participatory exploration program.” This isn’t funding the building of rockets and spaceships directly, but does allow the public to help the company accelerate their efforts.

“The funds will enable us to launch our participatory exploration program, which is more than just the perks people get for making a donation,” said Golden Spike President and CEO Dr. Alan Stern in an email to Universe Today. “It involves apps, membership, media productions, and more, and that effort is intended to become self-sustaining after we jump-start it with Indiegogo.”

Stern said funds from the Indiegogo campaign will also be used for other activities in Golden Spike.

“We’re building a program that is about connecting people to lunar exploration,” he said, “and when we had people keep telling us they want to help fund us to help get us to the Moon, we’re really excited about that. But while our major funding will, of course come from sales and investment, this gives people a sense of participation too.”

The company is looking to raise $240,000 – a dollar for every mile from the Earth to the Moon.

“The drive aims to raise awareness about Golden Spike, accelerate Golden Spike’s plans for innovative public participation in its activities, and give the global community of space enthusiasts and the general public a chance to help fuel Golden Spike’s human Lunar exploration mission,” says the Golden Spike team on their Indiegogo page.

“We hope that this campaign and all the projects it enables will generate a degree of participation in space exploration that has never existed before” said Gerry Griffin, former Apollo Flight Director and the Chairman of Golden Spike’s Board of Directors.

Those participating in the crowdfunding campaign will become Golden Spike ‘insiders,’ with an Olympics Movement-style membership program for children and adults. “We want to make it possible for people to follow Golden Spike’s development and space missions just like people follow Hollywood, NASCAR, and professional sports,” said Stern.

Some of the perks of donating include receiving reconnaissance images of potential landing sites, having the chance to vote on where missions should land on the Moon, and having your name and a short message left on the Moon. Big donors would receive trips to launches of missions to the Moon.

But to get the Moon yourself via Golden Spike, you’ll have to foot the $1.5 billion price tag for a two-person lunar mission.

The Golden Spike Company was started by a group of former NASA engineers and spaceflight experts, looks to provide services such as vehicles, mission planning, mission ops, and crew training to create a reliable and affordable lunar exploration system that will be U.S. based

Stern said they will not build new hardware but adapt crew capsules already in development and use existing infrastructure and launchers. However, they are looking to developing their own lunar spacesuits and lunar landers.

Their tentative plan is to use a series of launches where the first launch sends a lunar lander to orbit the Moon and a second launch brings the crew, which will then dock with the lander and head to the Moon.

Stern said their costs per flight are not much higher than some recent robotic lunar missions that have been flown and they will offset their costs with spaceship naming rights, media rights, and other enticements. They already have companies involved, such as United Launch Alliance, Armadillo Aerospace, Masten Space Systems, and have brought several investors on board.

Golden Spike’s website

The Indiegogo page for Golden Spike

A proposed Golden Spike lunar lander on the Moon. Credit: Golden Spike Company
A proposed Golden Spike lunar lander on the Moon. Credit: Golden Spike Company