Bill Nye is CEO of The Planetary Society, the group behind the LightSail. I called him to find out more...
How long has it taken to develop LightSail?
'It's been 39 years since the founder of The Planetary Society mentioned the use of solar sails on TV. It wasn't until 2000 that the society worked on the sail idea. They built a LightSail satellite that was due to be sent into space on a Russian rocket. Unfortunately the rocket crashed into the ocean and never made it to orbit. In 2015 we got to fly our first solar sail successfully, which was very gratifying. '
When will the next LightSail satellite launch?
'We're planning on launching LightSail 2 as soon as we can, hopefully as early as autumn 2017. The satellite is built and ready to go, we just have to wait for the rocket to be ready. The rocket will have 27 engines so it needs testing before we use it! We need to attach our satellite to a rocket as it can't launch itself into space. '
How does LightSail work?
'When light hits the sail, photons moving into the sail bounce off it and transfer some of this movement onto the sail. This transfer pushes the sail forward. The satellite can also be steered just like a sailboat. You just change the direction that the sail is facing if you want to change the direction the satellite is travelling.'
What makes LightSail unique?
'We've been focusing on how we can steer LightSail 2. LightSail 2 will be directed by simply changing the position of the sails. What's also unique is that it's funded by 52,000 members of the public.'
Could this be used for trips to Mars?
'To explore Mars we will need big spacecraft that can serve as cargo ships to take materials and food to the planet. Solar sails could help us do this. It would be relatively slow going but very low cost. It would be a great way to help us set up a science research station there. But do we really want to colonise Mars? You'd spend your life never being able to breathe fresh air! '
Why is this project important?
'Space exploration brings out the best in us. It helps us solve problems that have never been solved before. We make discoveries that our ancestors couldn't even imagine. That's why it's so important and inspirational to explore space. LightSail can help us do this for a much lower cost - especially when you compare it to the amount of money society spends on other things. '