LunarSail is a demonstration cubesat mission managed by the Aerospace Research & Engineering Systems Institute, Inc. The objective of the project is to launch a spacecraft to orbit and then utilize solar sail propulsion to leave Earth orbit and navigate a lunar orbit rendezvous trajectory, culminating in orbital insertion around the Moon. The primary mission of LunarSail is to serve as a platform for cubesat operations beyond low Earth orbit that require lunar rendezvous. Its mission is intended to demonstrate practical application of solar sail technology for propulsion, trajectory/attitude control and rendezvous with another body in space. With LunarSail, we will take advantage of the cubesat platform to conduct a mission to use a solar sail to send a spacecraft to the Moon and then utilize the sail’s unique characteristics to navigate into lunar orbit.

A Citizen Space Mission

LunarSail is a different kind of space exploration mission from traditional missions sponsored by government agencies. It is a “citizen space mission” and relies on the contributions and participation of the public. While it may be necessary to work with the federal government for financial support and assistance in procuring a launch opportunity, a substantial amount of our budget is being fulfilled via crowdfunding and donations from private citizens and supporters of commercial space exploration. Through crowdfunding, people are able to donate not only financially but also through labor, software programming and ideas, thereby becoming participants and co-owners of the mission – stakeholders in its success.

As part of our plan to conduct a citizen space mission, we are integrating social media outreach into every aspect of the mission from development and assembly through launch and once the spacecraft is in orbit around the Moon. In addition to radio, cameras and telemetry, we will use social media as another means of communicating to and from the spacecraft. It will be extremely inspiring for people to send their creative works to space and delivering them to a global audience simultaneously. To this end, we are inviting creative people and the public to submit messages, artwork, music and short video clips that will be stored onboard the spacecraft in a reserved area of computer memory storage. Once in lunar orbit, LunarSail will broadcast contributors’ artwork and content for reception on Earth.

An Open Source Architecture

LunarSail is an “open-source” project. Except for restricted or third-party proprietary hardware, hardware designs and source code will be publicly available on the project website and feedback, ideas and improvements will be sought from the wider community. LunarSail’s primary computer is planned to be based on the Raspberry Pi singleboard computer running a version of the Linux operating system. Linux is open source and the software we develop to run on top of it will also comply with open source licensing.