UC Irvine physicist Gregory Benford will announce plans for the first known attempt to push a spacecraft into the Earth’s orbit with energy beamed up from the ground.

The satellite will be called the Cosmos Sail, the first solar-sail craft to orbit Earth. The Benfords developed the sail with researchers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Made from lightweight layers of aluminized mylar, the sail will allow a craft to be propelled from low orbit to high orbit and ultimately into interplanetary space, driven by microwave energy, similar to the way wind pushes a sailboat across the sea. By using these electromagnetic waves, spacecraft would burn significantly less engine fuel—the most prohibitive expense of interplanetary voyaging.