Monday, June 20, 2005

Solar Sailing

The award for the coolest scientific breakthrough that I had never heard about goes to the brainiacs behind the Cosmos 1 - the first solar-sail powered spacecraft. Sponsored by the Planetary Society, a non-profit space advocacy group, the Cosmos 1 is set to launch on a Russian missile as soon as tomorrow.

Using eight specially designed triangular sails, the Cosmos 1 hopes to harness the power generated from light photons from the sun bouncing off the sails to propel the craft out of the Earth's gravitational field without even a drop of fuel. Although the power from the photons will initially be minimal, it is believed that they will accumulate over time, increasing the speed at which the Cosmos 1 travels by 100 mph a day.

Although the Cosmos 1 has sails that are set to disintegrate within a few weeks, the potential to create a long-distance craft is amazing.

"In theory . . . a spacecraft with stronger sails could keep accelerating indefinitely, breaking out of Earth orbit and heading for other planets -- or even the edge of the solar system -- faster than any other spacecraft has gone before. In three years, a solar sail could be traveling faster than 100,000 mph. And it could do it without a drop of onboard fuel."

That's right - 100,000 mph!!

That is why NASA and the Japanese space agency are both hard at work at their own solar-sail crafts.

However, the Planetary Society is proud to be playing a role in prodding the big dogs into moving on solar sail technology. "By committing to a test flight before them, we have put their eyes on the goal," says the executive director of the group, Louis Friedman. And what an exciting goal it is.

Via Wired.

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