Cosmos 1

From Academic Kids

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Cosmos 1 was a project by The Planetary Society to test a solar sail in space. As part of the project, an unmanned solar sail spacecraft was launched into space at 15:46:09 EDT (19:46:09 UTC) on June 21, 2005, from the submarine Borisoglebsk in the Barents Sea. However, a rocket failure prevented it from reaching its intended orbit. Once in orbit, the spacecraft was supposed to deploy a large sail, which photons from the Sun would push upon, thereby increasing the spacecraft's velocity.

Had the mission been successful, it would have been the first-ever orbital use of a solar sail to speed up a spacecraft, as well as the first space mission by a space advocacy group. The project budget was $4 million USD.

Missing image
An artist's rendering of Cosmos 1

Current status

The Cosmos 1 sail was launched at 15:46:09 EDT (19:46:09 UTC) on June 21, 2005.

Initially, the first few ground stations did not report a signal from the spacecraft, raising fears that the spacecraft was lost on launch. However, at 21:40 PDT (4:40 UTC June 22), the Planetary Society announced, "We have found what we believe are spacecraft signals in the data recorded at [several] tracking stations...If confirmed, these data will indicate that Cosmos 1 made it to orbit, albeit possibly an incorrect orbit. (Press release) (

Meanwhile, however, Russian news agencies were reporting that the spacecraft had not made it to orbit:

  • At 14:00 PDT on June 21 (21:00 UTC June 21), the Russian news agency Interfax reported that the spacecraft failed to reach orbit at the expected time.
  • At 15:13 PDT on June 21 (22:13 UTC June 21), the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reported "the engine of the first stage of a Volna booster spontaneously stopped working at the 83rd second of the flight" (Report) (, (In Russian) (

Finally, at 10:30 PDT on June 22 (17:30 UTC), the Planetary Society issued a statement that "the Russian space agency (RKA) has made a tentative conclusion that the Volna rocket carrying Cosmos 1 failed during the firing of the first stage. This would mean that Cosmos 1 is lost," but data "might indicate that Cosmos 1 made it into orbit, but probably a lower one than intended. The project team now considers this to be a very small probability."

Planned mission profile

To test the solar sail concept, the Cosmos 1 project launched an orbital spacecraft with a full complement of eight sail blades during a window opening June 21, 2005. The spacecraft has a mass of 100 kg (220 lbs) and consists of eight triangular sail blades which would be deployed from a central hub after launch by inflating structural tubes. The sail blades are each 15 m long, have a total surface area of 600 square meters, and are made of Mylar.

The spacecraft was launched on a Volna rocket (a converted SS-N-18 ICBM) from a Russian Delta III submarine, the Borisoglebsk, submerged in the Barents Sea. The spacecraft's initial circular orbit would have been at an altitude of about 800 km where it would have unfurled the sails. The sails would have then gradually raised the spacecraft to a higher earth orbit. "Cosmos 1 might boost its orbit 31 to 62 miles [50 to 100 km] over the expected 30-day life of the mission," says Louis Friedman of the Planetary Society. [1] (,1,2584884.story?coll=la-news-science&ctrack=1&cset=true)

The mission was expected to end within a month of launch as the mylar of the blades degrades in sunlight.

Possible beam propulsion

The solar sail craft could also have been used to measure the effect of artificial microwaves aimed at it from a radar installation. A 70 m dish at the Goldstone facility of NASA's Deep Space Network would have been used to irradiate the sail with a 450 kW beam. This experiment in beam-powered propulsion would only have been attempted after the prime mission objective of controlled solar sail flight was achieved.


The craft would have been visible to the naked eye from most of the Earth's surface: the planned orbit has an inclination of 80°, so it would have been visible from latitudes of up to approximately 80° north and south.

A network of tracking stations around the world tried to maintain contact with the solar sail during the mission. Tracking stations include the Tarusa station, 75 miles (120 km) south of Moscow, and the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California-Berkeley. Mission control was based primarily at the Russian company NPO Lavochkin in Moscow — a centre that the Planetary Society calls Mission Operations Moscow (MOM).


The craft would have been gradually accelerating during each orbit as a result of the radiation pressure of photons colliding with the sails. Photons are the sub-atomic particles that make up light, and travel at the speed of light. As photons reflect off the surface of the sails, they transfer momentum to the object. Because there is no air resistance to oppose the velocity of the craft, acceleration is proportional to the number of photons colliding with it per unit time and amounts to a tiny 0.0005 m/s² acceleration in the vicinity of the Earth (BBC) ( However, even this tiny acceleration is larger than that of some other propulsion techniques; for example, the ion engine-powered SMART-1 spacecraft has a maximum acceleration of 0.0002 m/s². (SMART-1 achieved lunar orbit in November 2004).

Other aspects

Besides the main spacecraft, launched in June 2005, the Cosmos 1 project has funded two other craft:

  • A suborbital test was attempted in 2001 with only two sail blades. The spacecraft failed to separate from the rocket.
  • A second orbital spacecraft is under construction, but the launch date (if any) has not been set.

One of Cosmos 1's solar sail blades was displayed at the Rockefeller Center office complex in New York City in 2003.

Latest news

  • Planetary Society's Cosmos 1 weblog (, updated daily until launch, and then as events warrant.

External links

de:Cosmos 1 es:Cosmos 1 eo:Cosmos 1 fr:Cosmos 1 nl:Cosmos_1 zh:宇宙1号 pl:Cosmos 1


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