The Planetary Society's Cosmos 1: The First Solar Sail mission, sponsored by Cosmos Studios, is set to test in April with the prime mission scheduled to launch between October - December this year.
The deployment test flight will launch from a Russian submarine in the Barents Sea and will be lifted into a thirty-minute sub-orbital flight from a Russian Volna rocket, a converted ICBM. The main mission, with the goal of first solar sail flight, will launch into Earth orbit later this year, also from a Volna rocket.
Once in orbit, the solar sail spacecraft will be as bright as the full moon (although only a point in the sky) and will be visible from places on Earth with the naked eye. Images of the sail in flight will be sent to Earth from two different cameras on-board the spacecraft.
The mission represents the first private mission of space exploration technology and the first mission by a private space interest organization. It will explore and develop technology that could open the door to future flights throughout the solar system and beyond. The mission will be carried out by a unique, privately funded Russian-American space venture.
"This could be a pivotal moment for space exploration, said Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society and Project Director of Cosmos 1. "Solar Sailing is a grand adventure as well as an important leap in technological innovation."
Space sailing is done not with wind, but with reflected light pressure - pushing on giant sails, changing the orbital energy and spacecraft velocity continuously. The sunlight pressure is powerful enough to push spacecraft between the planets from Mercury out to Jupiter. Beyond Jupiter, and out to the stars, space sailing can be done using powerful lasers focused over long distances in space.
"The lasers themselves will be powered by solar energy - keeping the spirit of solar sailing alive to other stars," added Friedman.
"The many special aspects of this first attempted solar sail flight - Russian-American collaboration; use of weapons of war for launching peaceful technologies for humankind's future; attempting a very low cost, privately funded space initiative in a one-year time schedule; realizing one of Carl Sagan's dreams; working with Ann Druyan, Sagan's wife and long-time collaborator, who, together with Joe Firmage, had the courage to fund this project - make us extremely proud of what we have accomplished before we've even launched," said Friedman.
"We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars," wrote Sagan and Druyan in their television series, Cosmos.
"This is a Kitty Hawk moment to us. We feel as if we've been given the chance to outfit the Wright Brothers' Bicycle Shop," said Ann Druyan, CEO of Cosmos Studios, Inc. "We at Cosmos Studios are honored to work with the brilliant scientists and engineers of many countries brought together by The Planetary Society for one great purpose. We are proud to be part of this historic mission, which is a critical baby step to the stars. It's also emblematic of Cosmos Studios' philosophy: to support good science, clean high technology and bold exploration, and to engage the widest possible audience in the romance of the adventure."
The low cost of this mission is made possible due to the Russians ability to "piggy-back" on a successful program in developing an inflatable re-entry vehicle. Once injected into Earth's orbit, the sail will be deployed by inflatable tubes, pulling out the sail material and then rigidizing the structure. The sail is constructed into eight "blades" or "petals" - roughly triangular in shape. They can be turned (pitched) like helicopter blades, and depending on how they are turned, the sunlight will reflect in different directions. This is how the attitude of the spacecraft is controlled and how the sail can "tack."
Low cost is also made possible by use of the Volna rocket, manufactured by the Makeev Rocket Bureau in Russia. The Babakin Space Center is the prime contractor for the project - the company is a spin-off organization of NPO Lavochkin, the largest manufacturer of robotic spacecraft in the world.
The April launch will be a sub-orbital flight test of the deployment of two solar sail blades. An inflatable re-entry shield is planned to bring the pictures of the deployment back to a landing and recovery site in Kamchatka. The actual solar sail flight will commence from an 850 km circular orbit, with a launch being planned in a window between October - December of this year. The sail will be 600 square meters of aluminized mylar, constructed into 8 blades.
Solar sailing enables space travel without fuel. Applications from space weather satellites that can hold position against the force of gravity, to interplanetary shuttles carrying cargo between the planets and the asteroids and comets are all part of the solar sailing future. By diving in close to the Sun, future solar sails will achieve enormous velocities enabling rendezvous with any solar system object, or, as mentioned above, a flight to the stars.
Cosmos 1 is staffed by a world team of Americans and Russians. The Planetary Society website has a dedicated section to this mission, which includes an animation of the mission, spacecraft details, updates and news releases. It will allow the world public to follow and participate in this mission. This site is open to the public.
This will be the first space mission that will utilize a website to continuously interface the sequence of the mission with the general public, allowing continued and uninterrupted public.