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Press Room

Worldwide Network to Track Solar Sail Spacecraft


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

From Moscow to the Marshall Islands, from California to the Czech Republic, tracking stations around the world will receive data from Cosmos 1, the world's first solar sail spacecraft, after it launches on June 21, 2005. The innovative solar sail, a project of The Planetary Society and Cosmos Studios, was built in Russia and will launch atop a converted ICBM from a submerged Russian submarine in the Barents Sea.

The data obtained during the flight of Cosmos 1 will help the world community analyze and develop future solar sail technologies. The Russian Space Agency, the Russian Academy of Sciences, the United States Air Force, and the Space Sciences Laboratory of the University of California at Berkeley are among the organizations that will track the sail. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic will also be part of the global consortium that will comprise the tracking network. The US Strategic Command's Space Surveillance Network will track Cosmos 1 and provide supplementary tracking data to the mission's own tracking network, should it be needed during the mission. A list of tracking stations is available at

The mission will be controlled from the Lavochkin Association in Moscow. A project operations center will be located at The Planetary Society in Pasadena, California.

Both NASA and NOAA have design concepts for solar sail missions. They have signed agreements with The Planetary Society to receive technological data from the Cosmos 1 mission in support of their programs. The no-exchange-of-funds agreements provide data for the space agencies in return for tracking and operations support to the Society.

"The data from this historic flight is critical because solar sailing is a technology that holds so much promise for humanity's future in space. If successful, this technology may change the way we explore space," said Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society and Cosmos 1 Project Director.

All the major space agencies have solar sailing programs, but none has planned an actual space mission using the technology. Russia and Japan have conducted in-space deployment tests, while NASA and ESA have developed and tested solar sail systems on the ground. But Cosmos 1 is the first attempt to actually sail under sunlight pressure.

Cosmos 1 was financed by Cosmos Studios, a privately owned science-based entertainment company. The spacecraft was built by the Lavochkin Association and the Space Research Institute in Russia. The Russian space organizations are also investing in mission support to advance their own space sailing ambitions. The Russians have built this new, lightweight spacecraft and utilized a low-cost launch system in a bid to develop a new series of scientific spacecraft.

During the first orbit after launch, two additional portable stations set up in Majuro, Marshall Islands and Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka will provide valuable initial data on the spacecraft. Cosmos 1 will be tracked from the ground through its radio system and an on-board GPS system and micro-accelerometer.

Solar Sail Watch, a program designed for the general public, will invite people around the world to lend their help in tracking Cosmos 1 and photographing its progress across the night sky. Once its sails unfurl, Cosmos 1 will be bright enough to be easily visible to the naked eye. The Planetary Society and Cosmos Studios urge everyone to witness this historic mission first hand.

One particularly interesting "watch" will come from the United States Air Force Maui Optical & Supercomputing Site (AMOS) in Hawaii, which will attempt to image the sail as soon as possible after deployment.

"High resolution pictures from Earth," notes Friedman, "could be as beautiful as photos of sailboats in the ocean taken from shore."

The Clay Center Observatory at Dexter and Southfield Schools in Brookline, Massachusetts also will image the spacecraft from the ground. This school provided the dramatic pictures of Spaceship 1 in flight on September 29 and October 4, 2004 when it carried out the first privately funded human space flight.


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.