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Press Room

Cosmos 1, The World's First Solar Sail Spacecraft, Achieves Critical Milestone


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

With the delivery of all electronic systems, Cosmos 1 -- the world's first solar sail craft -- achieved a critical milestone today in its countdown towards its launch later this year or early in 2005. Cosmos 1 is a project of The Planetary Society and is solely sponsored by Cosmos Studios.

The Space Research Institute (IKI) in Moscow has completed the qualification of all flight electronics and tests of mission control software. The parts have been shipped to NPO Lavochkin, one of Russia's largest aerospace companies, where they will be integrated on to the spacecraft.

Dr. Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society and Project Director of Cosmos 1, said, "This long-anticipated and crucial milestone gives us the green light to begin final assembly of the spacecraft. If all goes well, we plan to ship the spacecraft to the launch preparation site near the port of Murmansk by the end of November."

Cosmos 1's mission goal is to perform the first controlled solar sail flight. Solar sailing is the only known technology that may someday enable interstellar flight.

Most spacecraft are launched from land, but Cosmos 1 will launch on a Volna rocket from a Russian submarine beneath the Barents Sea. A network of ground stations will track and receive data from the spacecraft after launch. The prime Russian stations are near Moscow, but additional tracking sites around the world include sites operated by US government agencies: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Air Force.

NOAA's Satellite and Information Service will permit tracking from its site in Fairbanks, Alaska. The Air Force will provide optical pictures of the deployed sail from the Air Force Maui Optical and Supercomputing (AMOS) site at Haleakala, Hawaii. Other tracking sites include the University of California, Berkeley Space Science Laboratory ground station; two specially constructed portable stations for backup; and Panska Ves, a Czech ground station.

Solar sailing is done not with wind, but with reflected light pressure - its push on giant sails can change orbital energy and spacecraft velocity continuously. Once injected into Earth's orbit, the sail will be deployed by inflatable tubes, which pull out the sail material and make the structure rigid. Cosmos 1 will have eight blades, configured like a giant windmill. The blades can be turned like helicopter blades to reflect sunlight in different directions. This enables the sail to "tack," tracking the sun and controlling the attitude of the spacecraft. Each blade measures 15 meters in length and is made from 5-micron-thin aluminized, reinforced Mylar -- about 1/4 the thickness of a trash bag.

Several solar sail spacecraft have been proposed over the last few years, but none except Cosmos 1 has been built. NASA, the European and Japanese space agencies all have solar sail development programs, but no flights scheduled. NASA and ESA have conducted ground tests, and the Japanese space agency recently conducted a test of sail deployment on a sounding rocket.

"There are other private initiatives to convert long-established space technologies into commercial business ventures," said Ann Druyan, CEO of Cosmos Studios and Mission Program Director. "I believe Cosmos 1 is the first instance of a small business going for a revolutionary scientific and technological breakthrough in a wholly new mode of space travel. Cosmos Studios' goals are to generate new knowledge and to tell the inside story of how the 'Wright brothers' of today are changing our notion of the possible."

Certification of readiness for launch will be conducted upon completion of spacecraft assembly and final testing. At that time a specific launch date will be selected, in coordination with the Russian Navy and the Makeev Rocket Design Center, which builds and operates the Volna rocket.

"We congratulate the very hard-working team at the Space Research Institute for the electronics delivery. They labored mightily to overcome difficulties in development and testing of key components and in handling software complications uncovered during tests of the complex behavior of a solar sail spacecraft," said Friedman.

"If Cosmos 1 succeeds, it will be visible throughout much of the world to the naked eye, a signal flare of hope for the wise use of science and high technology," said Druyan "Over the last four years I've imagined Cosmos 1's vast silvery sails unfurling in space countless times. If that does come to pass, it will be both a thing of beauty and a milestone of progress on the long human journey to the stars."


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.