Feeds

Blast off for solar-sail test craft

Sun blows

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Build a business case: developing custom apps

A privately-funded spacecraft powered by a solar sail is set for launch this evening. The Cosmos-1 mission will be launched into orbit from a Russian submarine in the Barents Sea, in the Arctic Ocean, this evening at 8:46pm, UK time.

The craft will power its way to a 500 mile-high orbit atop a modified Volna intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The missile, which would not normally have enough power to reach orbit, has an additional rocket attached, similar to those used to de-orbit satellites. This should provide enough of an extra kick to get the craft to the necessary altitude.

Once in orbit, the experimental craft will wait four days before extending its solar sails, and will use this time to take pictures of Earth. Once unfurled, the sails will form a 30m circle that uses the momentum of solar photons to generate a very small, but constant, acceleration away from the sun. This acceleration is so small, in fact, that the craft will stay in orbit for several weeks, gradually gaining speed and altitude until it reaches escape velocity.

Solar sails have long been touted as the most realistic way of powering interstellar exploration, because although the acceleration is small, over a long enough time, a craft could achieve a very high velocity.

The $4m project has been funded by a TV station, and the Planetary Society in California. NASA is reportedly keen to get its hands on the experimental data from the expedition.

"Cosmos-1 is a short-term, modest mission that simply intends to prove the concept - that solar sailing is possible," The Planetary Society's Amir Alexander told the BBC.

"[It] is really the only known technology that could potentially take us to the stars one day, because it does not have to carry fuel with it and because it can keep accelerating - even at incredible distances," he added. ®

Related stories

MIT boffins moot space leotard
NASA scramjet nudges Mach 10
SMART-1 makes lunar orbit

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
Boffins build CYBORG-MOTHRA but not for evil: For search & rescue
This tiny bio-bot will chew through your clothes then save your life
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.