updated 8/4/2012 7:17:34 PM ET 2012-08-04T23:17:34

A new start-up company is hoping to ride the crowdsourcing wave to privately raise millions of dollars to fund scientific research, space exploration projects and other educational initiatives.

The company, called Uwingu (which means "sky" in Swahili), was founded by a team of noted astronomers, planetary scientists, educators and other industry officials. The idea was to create new ways for people to receive funding for innovative projects beyond the existing grants infrastructure.

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"It started a couple years back, and central to it was the idea that there really isn't an alternative for space researchers and educators other than NASA, and a bit from the National Science Foundation," said Alan Stern, a planetary scientist and the former associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "So, people are really living and dying in those fields by what happens to NASA's budget. We thought, why can't we create a 21st century way to provide an alternative?"

Stern became one of the founders of Uwingu, and he's in good company. The team includes space historian Andrew Chaikin, exoplanet hunter Geoff Marcy, who is also chair of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program, and Pamela Gay, a noted astronomer and educator.

With NASA ensnared in a tight budgetary environment, some agency programs, such as planetary science, are falling victim to sweeping cuts. Stern and his colleagues are hoping that funds raised through Uwingu could provide alternatives or a safety net in these situations. But, the possibilities don't stop there.

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"We think this will evolve in really interesting ways," Stern told "Some of it will be helping out people who are struggling through budget cuts, some people may be seeking supplemental funding to what they got from NASA or NSF, others may have some projects that are too risky for NASA to fund and they don't make it through their review panel."

As such, the primary goal is to provide more options for the scientific community.

"We would love to be a parallel stream," Stern said. "We can be quite a force, and we would love that, but it's not meant to replace or compete with anything — it's an adjunct. If it's a four-lane highway now, we want to add a fifth lane. We're not going to compete with billion dollars programs, but in our own small way, we can start to make new inroads."

Uwingu aims to award money through in a selection process similar to NASA and the National Science Foundation. The company will issue a request for proposals, and a peer review panel will select various projects for funding.

"The projects may be very small," Stern said, "but $1,000 can make a big difference to a school, and $10,000 can make a huge difference to a graduate student.

But first, Uwingu needs help from the public. The company has launched an ambitious crowdsourcing campaign to raise at least $75,000 to officially launch the company and fund its operation.

"We've initially funded the company like a lot of start-ups, as in the founders wrote checks, and people are doing the work on their own time," Stern explained. "But, if the company drowns in the first two months paying internet bills, it doesn’t do anybody any good. We have to get to a point where we're self-sustaining, and that's what this campaign is about."

If all goes according to plan, Uwingu hopes to launch a marketing drive and bring its first project to the market in the fall.

From there, the sky, as Uwingu's name suggests, is the limit.

To contribute to the project, or to learn more about Uwingu's mission, people can visit the company's site on Indiegogo here:

Follow Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechowor @Spacedotcom.We're also on Facebookand Google+.

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Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
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  5. Accidental art

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    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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