A solar-sail spacecraft designed to be propelled by the pressure of sunlight will be launched early next year, the Planetary Society said Tuesday.


Cosmos 1 will be carried into orbit by a converted intercontinental ballistic missile launched from a submerged Russian submarine in the Barents Sea, the space exploration organization said.



A launch date of March 1 was scheduled, with a window open until April 7, but the actual liftoff date will be determined by the Russian navy. Russian, American and Czech ground stations will track the craft.



The mission, costing just under $4 million, will attempt the first controlled flight of a solar sail.



Solar sails are envisioned as means for achieving interstellar flight. Though very gentle, solar pressure should allow such spacecraft to gradually build up great velocity over time, and cover great distances.



Japan tested solar sail deployment on a suborbital flight, and Russia deployed a solar sail outside its old Mir space station, but neither involved controlled flight, said Louis Friedman, executive director of The Planetary Society and project director of Cosmos 1.



When Cosmos 1 is in orbit, inflatable tubes will stretch the sail material out and hold it rigid in eight 49.5-foot-long (15-meter-long) structures resembling the blades of a windmill. Each blade can be turned to reflect sunlight in different directions so that the craft can “tack” much like a sailboat in the wind.



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