The plan was to launch a cloud of tiny satellites into space, each one no bigger than a quarter, and scatter them like spare change in the orbital dusk.
But two weeks after a successful launch, there are concerns that the larger satellite carrying all those tiny ones—known as sprites—will burn up before the sprites are deployed.
The satellites were designed by scientists at Cornell who want to replicate the success of Sputnik, the beach-ball-sized Soviet satellite that launched in 1957 and officially set off the space race. These sprites are each less than one ten-millionth Sputnik's size, but with all the functionality of the original.
"Our design packages the traditional spacecraft systems (power, propulsion, communications, etc) onto a single silicon microchip smaller than a dime and unconstrained by onboard fuel," scientists said in a description of the project.
Now, those scientists are waiting—along with 315 backers who contributed nearly $75,000 on Kickstarter to support the project—to see if a technological snafu can be corrected before all of the satellites burn up in the atmosphere.
The sprites were set to be deployed from a larger satellite, known as KickSat, on May 4. Here's a video that shows how KickSat is designed to disperse sprites across space:
KickSat hitched a ride on a NASA-contracted CRS-3 spacecraft that was launched April 18 to resupply the International Space Station. But some time in the morning on April 30, KickSat's master clock reset itself. That master clock is what runs the countdown to deploy the sprites, the essential task pushed back by the unexpected reset to May 16 instead of May 4 as originally planned.