Cosmos 1, First Solar Sail, to be Launched from Submarine
The world’s first solar sail is being prepared for launch Tuesday from a Russian atomic submarine in the Barents Sea. The private U.S.-Russian consortium sponsoring the takeoff calls the spacecraft Cosmos 1. Its designers say the large, lightweight reflective sheet will revolutionize space propulsion by using the gentle shove of sunlight rather than costly fuel.
A solar sail might do for space missions what fabric sails once did for sea travel. It would use free, natural energy to move a craft across distances in the heavens not now possible, partly because of limits to the amount of heavy fuel that can be carried.
“It’s the only known technology that can lead us to interstellar flight, to the stars,” says Louis Friedman, the president of a private U.S. space advocacy group called the Planetary Society. The group is working to fly Cosmos 1 with the Lavochkin Association, one of Russia’s largest aerospace companies, and the Space Research Institute in Russia.
“It gets all of its propulsive energy from the sun. The sunlight photons, the energy of sunlight or light beams, is what propels the spacecraft. So it’s something that you can travel both through our own planetary system, maybe to other planetary systems, without any fuel,” says Mr. Friedman.
While some great inventions immediately make you think, “Now, there’s something I could have come up with,” a sail powered spacecraft launched from a submarine is surely not one of them. Talk about thinking outside the box.