Michigan Engineering professors, researchers and students are opening up the solar system to the public: They are offering a rare opportunity for “citizen explorers” to fund an interplanetary satellite mission – and decide where it’s going to go.
The engineering teams here at UofM are creating a new plasma thruster technology called CubeSat Ambipolar Thruster (CAT), which would push a Cube Satellite (‘CubeSat’ - a small satellite about the size of a loaf of bread) out into deep space – something which has never been done before!
What’s more?This thruster will be propelled by good old water, thus providing a green and affordable space exploration!
The applications of CubeSats are amazing. They range from accurate weather forecasting (thinking about all the damages caused by hurricanes) to even interplanetary wi-fi network!
In order to make this project come to life, the two Professors just launched a Kickstarter project on December 2nd. This is also a revolutionary move for academicians to crowdsource science. The traditional university funding takes a very long time and there are a large number of gates to go through over many years. But by turning to Kickstarter, Professors Longmier and Cutler are hoping to compress that timeline from initial seed data to flight in about 18 months. This is an incredible timeline compared to traditional grants.
Here is the Kickstarter project page :
The Kickstarter funding goal provides enough for equipment and in-space testing of the CAT engine. Once the thruster is operational, the camera can be turned to share photos of Earth and other planets with Kickstarter backers. After the thruster is thoroughly tested in space, the team plans to attempt sending a CubeSat into deep space, and is inviting backers to vote on the interplanetary destination of the satellite.
“We have two main goals with this project.” said Longmier, “First, we would like to make space exploration affordable and sustainable. And secondly, we’d like to open it up to the community and have people be a part of the process.”
“The problem with the spacecraft we currently build is they simply don’t move,” said James Cutler, Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Director of the Michigan Exploration Laboratory (MXL), where three CubeSats have been designed, built and launched since 2008. “The propulsion system is in many ways the limiting factor for our spacecrafts to go deeper into space.”
Legendary Michigan football player Dhani Jones also supports the project and hopes to help raise interest to those not traditionally involved in space. Some of the Kickstarter rewards now include an opportunity to spend time with Jones launching a high-altitude balloon to send personal item to near space (90,000 feet). This project brings more public awareness to the University’s aerospace program, and Jones hopes his presence will be an inspiration to boost minority participation in STEM education.
You can show your support to the project by donating or by just liking the project in the Kickstarter web page. There are several cool rewards such as sending your tweet to the space or having your name etched on the golden plate of the satellite.
Go Blue Plasma!