Public gets first glimpse of solar sail spacecraft

August 6, 2003

Brussels, 05 Aug 2003

Visitors to the 'centennial of flight' exhibition in New York have been given the chance to see part of a revolutionary spacecraft which its designers describe as the future of interplanetary and interstellar flight.

The Cosmos 1 solar sail spacecraft mission is a joint venture involving the Planetary Society, a space interest group with over 100,000 members worldwide, and Cosmos Studios, an entertainment media company. This will be the first space mission to be launched through such collaboration.

The concept behind the Cosmos 1 mission was first developed in 1924, and is based on the theory that pressure caused by photons from the sun hitting large sails on a spacecraft should alone be enough to propel it through space. While the initial acceleration rate of such a craft would be extremely slow, in theory it would continue accelerating to speeds far in excess of those possible using existing spacecraft.

In autumn this year, a customised ballistic missile launched from a Russian nuclear submarine will place a prototype craft into orbit at an altitude of 1000 kilometres and unfurl its sails towards the sun. At such high altitudes, any acceleration of the spacecraft would almost certainly be due to solar propulsion.

Project Director Dr Louis Friedman said: 'Cosmos 1 represents the next centennial of flight, which will take us and our robotic emissaries from Earth to Mars, Pluto and beyond.'

'Our launch vehicle, a Russian ICBM [inter continental ballistic missile], has been converted from a weapon of mass destruction into a means of advancing the dream of exploring the universe,' added Programme Director and CEO of Cosmos Studios, Ann Druyan.

If the theory of solar sailing is proven to work, the technology could quickly replace the massive amounts of fuel currently needed to travel between planets. On interstellar voyages, however, sunlight would be too weak to propel the craft but some scientists have already suggested that earth based lasers could be trained on the sails and used to drive it across the enormous vacuum of space.

The Cosmos 1 team will test this theory by aiming microwave beams at the craft from Earth based radars.

For further information, please consult the following web address:
http://www.planetary.org/solarsail/index 2.html

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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