The world’s first solar sail spacecraft, Cosmos 1, is now mated to its Volna launch vehicle and ready for its ride into space. This is a great milestone in Planetary Society history: we have produced a fully qualified spacecraft and have it (figuratively) on the launch pad.
Of course, we are not on a launch pad at all. Cosmos 1 sits on a rocket about to be placed into a submarine. The rocket Volna (“wave” in Russian) is an intercontinental ballistic missile with its warheads replaced with our spacecraft and the orbital-insertion motor that will lift it to the outermost edge of Earth’s atmosphere.
Now we are ready to ride a wave into space.
But the hard work is certainly not over. Right now, we are scrambling to prepare for mission operations. One aspect of flying a low-cost mission is that we can’t hire extra people and field parallel teams. Until this month, everyone was busy with spacecraft development and had no time to work on the multifaceted aspects of mission operations. The stations in our worldwide tracking network are working together for the first time, and we must coordinate all our activities over 20 time zones and in two different languages.
Cosmos 1 is a complex spacecraft; with it, we are trying things that have never been done before. Delivering a spacecraft to the rocket is of course only a milestone along the way, but still one of which we are proud.
Our hats are off to all the teams involved, not only for the individual tasks accomplished, but also for the unprecedented cooperation and coordination among interests ranging from the media (our sponsor, Cosmos Studios) to military (the Russian Navy.) In between, we have The Planetary Society, the Lavochkin Association, the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, several American and Russian organizations, and the many individuals who have helped. We also acknowledge the Makeev Rocket Design Bureau of Miass, Russia who built the Volna. Now, the Russian Navy will launch it. And we never even would have reached the launch of Cosmos 1 without the support and enthusiasm of Planetary Society members.
The world’s space agencies are watching our mission with great interest. Whatever happens in the next few weeks, we know we have already contributed to the development of a new propulsion technology that can revolutionize space travel—even as far as the stars.