Send your own satellite into space

A Cornell grad student wants to make it easy and affordable enough for anyone to explore space, so he and some like-minded collaborators have built little satellites called Sprite.

Sprite satellite
Sprites can be built and launched into low Earth orbit for a few hundred dollars each, according to the makers.Photo by KickSat, via Kickstarter

Zac Manchester is taking this whole private space exploration idea into his own hands. A Cornell graduate student in aerospace engineering, Manchester hopes to raise enough money to launch 100 chip-size satellites into space.

He and some collaborators have created a DIY satellite called Sprite, which Manchester calls the "world's smallest spacecraft." The devices measure the size of a couple of postage stamps, and pack solar cells, a radio transceiver, and a microcontroller onto a single silicon microchip.

Manchester's goal? He's trying to raise $30,000 on Kickstarter so he can send as many Sprites into orbit as possible to demonstrate that they can be safely launched and operated.

According to the project page:

This first version can't do much more than transmit its name and a few bits of data--think of it as a shrunken-down Sputnik--but future versions could include any type of sensor that will fit, from thermometers to cameras.

For those who worry about space junk, the satellites will only be launched into low-altitude orbit so they will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere a few days after launch. While the first iteration of the satellite can't do much more than transmit initials and some data, Manchester hopes this is the first step toward democratizing access to space.

The Cornell graduate student isn't the only one with satellite ambitions. Another scientist, Kosta Grammatis, through his nonprofit A Human Right, has been raising money to purchase a retired satellite that could give people access to the Internet.

This story originally appeared on ZDNet's SmartPlanet.