Cosmos-1, The World’s First Solar Sail Spacecraft


Dear Friends, Visitors/Viewers/Readers,

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Today’s post will be on a solar propelled vehicle of a different kind….one that is not of the land nor sea, but of the space.  As Carl Sagan had once said, “We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean, we are ready at last, to set sails for the stars.”   With the help of solar sail, a Russian nuclear submarine fired an ICBM, converted from a weapon of mass destruction into a launch vehicle for peaceful scientific exploration, into Earth orbit.  It was the first test of a revolutionary method of travel that could some day take us to the stars.  Cosmos-1 was the world’s first solar sail spacecraft, using the pressure from sunlight to propel spacecraft between planets without fuel, launched into space at 15:46:09 EDT (19:46:09 UTC) on June 21, 2005.  The Planetary Society (a global membership organization and Earth’s largest space interest group) and Cosmos Studio (a venture in science-based entertainment that seeks to inspire and uplift, have cooperatively created this privately funded space mission.  The goal was to capture the world’s imagination and spur its governments to work together, to initiate a new golden age of exploration. The Babakin Space Center and Space Research Institute in Russia developed the spacecraft under the direction of a team of American scientists and engineers led by The Planetary Society.

Had the mission been successful, it would have been the first ever orbital use of a solar sail to speed up a spacecraft.

An artist’s rendering of Cosmos 1 orbiting the Earth, creative commons

This privately funded spacecraft, aimed to demonstrate solar sailing for the first time, appeared to have been lost in space and the ground controllers have failed to make contact with the craft the day after its launch.   But it was possible that it might have reached orbit and for some reason remained silent.

Cosmos-1, launched from the Barents Sea on a Volna rocket.  The huge, reflective sail should have deployed in an 800 km orbit. The project budget was US $4 million.  The Planetary Society planned to raise another $4 million for Cosmos 2, a reimplementation of the experiment provisionally to be launched on a Soyuz resupply mission to the International Space StationThe Discovery Channel was an early investor. However, advances in technology and the greater availability of lower mass piggyback slots on more launch vehicles led to a redesign similar to NanoSail-D, called LightSail-1, announced in November 2009.

Let’s take a look at the COSMOS-1, The World’s First Solar Sail Spacecraft, below:

NanoSail-D and Cosmos 2 could profoundly affect the future of science and exploration missions.  Solar sailing is the only means known to achieve practical interstellar flight, so let’s hope that each future effort would be the stepping stone that will lead us closer to sailing among the stars.   More on solar sailing will be coming in future posts.

Once again, I’d like to point out the proclivity of solar projects to take us from time of destruction to time of peace and expansion, as Cosmos-1 had done for us.

~have a bright and sunny day~

Gathered, writtened, and posted by sunisthefuture-Susan Sun Nunamaker

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