Solar spacecraft blasts off

10/01/2019 Posted by admin

The privately funded Cosmos 1 was launched in the tip of a converted Russian intercontinental ballistic missile from the Barents Sea at the start of the US$4m (A$5m) mission.

The project involves Russia’s Lavochkin research production institute and is financed by the US Planetary Society.

The aim is for streams of solar energy particles to push a giant, reflecting sail through space the way wind propels boats across water.

Solar sails are envisioned as a potential means for achieving interstellar flight in the future, allowing such spacecraft to gradually build up great velocity and cover large distances.

Backers of the mission say that with sunlight as its only fuel, a solar sail craft could potentially open the farthest reaches of the solar system to space travel.

The spacecraft, called “Solar Sail,” weighs about 110 kilograms.

It will go into an orbit more than 800 kilometres above the Earth for four and a half days while it undergoes tests.

Then inflatable tubes will stretch the sail material out and hold it rigid in eight 15-metre-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.

If all goes according to plan, the spacecraft should take just over an hour to make a full orbit around earth.

But scientists admit the chances the fragile craft could fail were “significant.”

Past attempts to unfold similar devices in space have ended in failure.

In 1999, Russia attempted a similar experiment with a sun-reflecting device, but mechanical problems saw the device burn up in the atmosphere.

Four years ago Russia launched a similar experiment, but the device failed to separate from the booster rocket.

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