To test the viability of propelling interplanetary spacecraft using beamed energy, scientists have announced plans to push a satellite into orbit using microwaves beamed from the ground.

Called Cosmos Sail, the satellite will be launched next spring from a Russian submarine off the coast of St. Petersburg. At about 800 kilometers altitude, it will deploy a sail made of aluminized mylar. The sail will then catch microwaves beamed from the ground the way a sailboat’s sail catches wind.

The idea was developed by Gregory Benford, a University of California Irvine physicist, his brother James Benford, the president of Microwave Sciences, and researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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