Cosmos 1, the privately-funded solar sail experiment funded largely by Ann Druyan’s Cosmos Studies and run by The Planetary Society, has passed an important milestone. All electronic systems for the spacecraft have been thoroughly tested at the Space Research Institute in Moscow, and have been sent to nearby Lavochkin for assembly in the vehicle.
Although there have been previous experiments with photon propulsion (through Russia’s Znamya space mirror deployment), Cosmos 1 would be the first spacecraft to demonstrate solar sail technologies in free flight. The goal is to launch the sail from a Russian nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea, perhaps as early as the end of this year. One fascinating experiment to watch in addition to the demonstration of photon propulsion will be an attempt to use beamed microwaves to move the sail. The microwave experiment is in the hands of James Benford of Microwave Sciences, Inc. of Lafayette, CA; Benford plans to use a large radio dish in Goldstone, CA that is part of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Deep Space Network to transmit the beam.