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Press Room

Cosmos 1 Solar Sail Sub-Orbital Test Flight: All Systems Go For July 19th Launch


Mat Kaplan
Phone: +1-626-793-5100

The deployment test flight for the Cosmos 1 Solar Sail project has been re-scheduled to launch on July 19, 2001 at 4:49 AM (Moscow time), July 18, 2001 at 5:49 PM (California time). Cosmos 1 is a joint venture of The Planetary Society and Cosmos Studios.

The spacecraft is fully repaired and tested after being damaged in a pre-launch test on April 9. It has already been delivered to Severomorsk, the Barents Sea port from which the Russian submarine that is launching the mission will set sail.

Cosmos Studios and A&E Network sponsor the project. The project is privately funded, has scientific and commercial objectives, and involves the cooperation of Russian space and defense organizations through a contract with The Planetary Society.

"Solar sailing could one day usher in a new wave of planetary exploration," said Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society and Cosmos 1 Project Director. "Launching the sub-orbital test flight on July 19 will be a fitting commemoration of the July 20 anniversaries of two great achievements in space exploration: the Apollo 11 lunar landing and the Viking Mars landing. This sub-orbital flight is only an engineering test, but we hope someday it will lead to great accomplishments, like Viking and Apollo."

The Cosmos 1 test craft will deploy two solar sail blades, while the full solar sail to be launched later this year will deploy eight blades. The 30-minute sub-orbital test flight will test the sail's deployment sequence and performance. Data collected from this test will help engineers prepare for the planned first solar sail mission in late 2001.

Cosmos Studios CEO, Ann Druyan, noted, "Cosmos 1 is a big gamble for a fledgling company such as ours. We take such a risk because we hope that this transformation of a Russian ICBM, a weapon of mass destruction, into a launch vehicle for a new way to travel ten times faster to the planets and stars, will attract the world's attention. We want it to have some impact on how we think about what we, as a civilization, are going to do in space. Are we going to booby trap our cosmic neighborhood with ever greater instability or are we going to get on with the ancient human enterprise of bold exploration?"

Minor damage from a pre-flight test in April is now repaired. The April accident occurred when inadvertent initiation of the spacecraft's re-entry sequence led to some components being damaged. Repairs were quickly made using spare parts and replacements where necessary. Tests on the integrated spacecraft and individual components have been completed satisfactorily. The sub-orbital test capsule will return to Earth with pictures of the deployment. The capsule is targeted for safe landing and recovery in Kamchatka, where a Russian helicopter team will retrieve it from the rugged terrain.

Solar sailing utilizes reflected light pressure pushing on giant panels, which adjust to the continuously changing orbital energy and spacecraft velocity. 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.

Russia's Babakin Space Center is the prime contractor for the project. The company is a spin-off organization of NPO Lavochkin, one of the largest manufacturers of robotic spacecraft in the world. The Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Makeev Rocket Design Bureau also play major roles in project development. Makeev is responsible for development of the Volna rocket -- which will launch both the test spacecraft in July and the orbital mission scheduled for the end of this year -- and has made arrangements with the Russian Navy for the launches.

Cosmos Studios and MPH Entertainment will produce a documentary on Cosmos 1 that will air on A&E Network in 2002.


About The Planetary Society

The Planetary Society has inspired millions of people to explore other worlds and seek other life. With the mission to empower the world's citizens to advance space science and exploration, its international membership makes the non-governmental Planetary Society the largest space interest group in the world. Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded The Planetary Society in 1980. Bill Nye, a longtime member of The Planetary Society's Board, serves as CEO.