Susan LendrothJun 02, 2005

Worldwide Network to Track Cosmos 1

From Moscow to the Marshall Islands and 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, which was built in Russia, 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 assist the world community in analyzing and developing future solar sail technologies. The Russian Space Agency, the Russian Academy of Sciences, the United States Air Force, and the University of California Berkeley, the Space Sciences Laboratory 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. 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.

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, in the United States, have contemplated solar sail missions. They have signed agreements with The Planetary Society to receive technological data from the 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 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 have planned an actual space mission with the technology. Russia and Japan have conducted in-space deployment tests, NASA and ESA have ground deployment test programs. But Cosmos 1 is the first to try to actually sail under sunlight pressure.

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 a 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 urges 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 taken from shore of sailboats in the ocean.”

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

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