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Press Room

Cosmos 1 Solar Sail Team Announces Ambitious New Flight Plan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
08/22/2001

CONTACT:
Mat Kaplan
Email: mat.kaplan@planetary.org
Phone: +1-626-793-5100

"The next flight in the Cosmos 1 solar sail project will be an orbital test of an eight-bladed sail," announced Cosmos 1 Project Director Louis Friedman at a press conference in Pasadena, California on Wednesday, August 22. Friedman is also the Executive Director of The Planetary Society.

The Cosmos 1 team will not fly another sub-orbital test of the two-bladed spacecraft lost on July 20, 2001. Instead, they will move forward to launch to Earth orbit a spacecraft that will test deployment of the sail blades and initial operation of a full solar sail.

About the two-bladed test, Babakin Space Center General Director Konstantin Pichkhadze noted that "The experience gained preparing and integrating the payload was valuable enough to allow us to proceed to the next step."

The next test flight is expected to launch in early 2002. Like the previous deployment test, the spacecraft will launch on a Volna rocket, a converted inter-continental ballistic missile, from a Russian submarine in the Barents Sea.

July's sub-orbital test launched as planned, with the rocket flying on its correct trajectory. However, the spacecraft never separated from the third stage of the rocket and, thus, was unable to perform its mission to deploy two solar sail blades.

A Russian review team has determined the cause of the failed separation to be linked to insufficient thrust from the motor of the third stage. On board computers sensed less than normal thrust and commanded the spacecraft payload not to separate from the third stage. The failure was unusual – the Volna rocket had a record of 146 consecutive successes before this flight.

"This error had nothing to do with the payload or solar sail spacecraft, but was a rare problem in our rocket," said Viacheslav Danyelkin, Deputy Director of Makeev Rocket Design Bureau, which is responsible for the launch vehicle.

The Planetary Society and Cosmos Studios have directed Babakin to build a second spacecraft as backup for the test flight; this spacecraft would be available to conduct the actual solar sail mission. The goal of Cosmos 1 is to measurably increase its orbital energy in controlled flight, that is, to slowly expand the orbit further out from Earth.

"This is my first ‘third stage separation failure,'" said Ann Druyan, CEO of Cosmos Studios, "and, despite the outcome, it was a thrill! The vision of that missile breaking the surface of the sea -- not to destroy everything we love, but to take us inches closer to the stars -- was a peak experience. We are more committed than ever to the mission, and we can't wait to share it with the world on the A&E Network."

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.

Cosmos Studios is funding Cosmos 1 with additional support from the A&E Network. The project involves the cooperation of Russian space and defense organizations through a contract with The Planetary Society.

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. Babakin is responsible for building the spacecraft and for mission operations. The Space Research Institute (IKI) of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Makeev Rocket Design Bureau also play major roles in project development. IKI is responsible for the spacecraft electronics, computer and one of the cameras. Makeev is responsible for development of the Volna rocket, which launched the suborbital test spacecraft in July and will launch the orbital test scheduled for 2002. Makeev coordinates with the Russian Navy for the launches.

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

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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.