Thursday, June 16, 2005


While NASA struggles to return to flight the really interesting stuff is happening in the private sector. The Planetary Society is, after many delays, scheduled to launch Cosmos-1, the world's first solar sail, on the 21st of June.

The society is a privately funded not for profit, and this will be the first in-orbit test of a free flying sail. Although both ISAS and the Russians have test deployed sails before, none have been free flying and under control. In fact the Japanese, despite the Wikipedia entry to the contrary, did so using a rocket on a sub-orbital trajectory. NASA is also working on solar sails, but have not yet got beyond laboratory test deployments.

Wired has picked up the story as the many times revised launch date draws near, but I've talked about Cosmos-1 before. One of the problems with doing things on a shoe string budget is that deadline slip. Cosmos-1 was originally scheduled for launch back in 2001.

Around the time of the Znamya test flights I wrote an introductory article on solar sailing, and it's still pretty relevant if you want to get an idea about the basic technologies that are being used, and you can follow the launch of Cosmos-1 on the Planetary Society's blog or via their RSS feed.

Update: Slashdot has picked up the story...

Update Cosmos-1 launched on schedule on the 21st of June.

Solar Sailing: Technology, Dynamics and Mission Applications
by Dr. Colin R. McInnes, ISBN 185233102X, 350 pages, £45.00

An introductory text and technical reference on solar sailing. The author assesses the benefits and limitations of solar sailing and comes to the conclusion that it really does offer the possibility of low-cost space missions, impossible for any other type of conventional spacecraft.

While this isn't the only text book on solar sailing McInnes' book is certainly the place to go if you want an in-depth look, a definite must buy for any space enthusiast.