Earth's "First" Solar Sail ?

Join Us for the Launch of Cosmos 1 the World's First Solar Sail Spacecraft, Planetary Society

"On June 21, Cosmos 1 - the world's first solar sail spacecraft - is set to launch atop a converted ICBM from a submerged Russian submarine in the Barents Sea"

Editor's note: I am not certain why the Planetary Society makes the claim that they will be launching the "world's first solar sail spacecraft". According to this 2004 JAXA press release (with images), "Japan Deloys Solar Sail Film in Space,"ISAS succeeded in deploying a big thin film for solar sail in space for the first time in the world. ISAS launched a small rocket S-310-34 from Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima, Japan, at 15:15, August 9, 2004."

Comment from Lou Friedman, Planetary Society:

"JAXA conducted a deployment test on a suborbital flight -- and did not either build a solar sailing spacecraft or attempt to fly under sunlight pressure. Those latter two goals are unique (thus far) to The Planetary Society project. JAXA's test was a valuable milestone; the Society also had wanted to do a suborbital deployment test in 2001, but it failed when the Volna rocket payload separation failed. The JAXA deployment of a big thin film in space was not the first in space either -- the Russians actually did that twice in the 1990s deploying a large reflective sail in space from the Progress to be observed by Mir. The program was called Znaimye. Their sail also was not part of a solar sail spacecraft."

Editor's note: Then, of course there is India's INSAT series which has used solar sails as well. According to the Indian Embassy INSAT 2A "is "configured with single-sided solar array consisting of four panels. This configuration is chosen to avoid any heat load on the IR detector cooler of VHRR, mounted on the spacecraft north side. To counteract the torque generated due to solar pressure on the array, a solar sail mounted on a boom is introduced on the northern side of the satellite. Inclusion of the solar flap at the tip of solar array helps to overcome seasonal variation in the solar radiation pressure torque." INSAT 3A also had this system.

Jim Oberg [website] replies: "Keith, I think Lou is correct in making this assessment. Cosmos-1 is the first known attempt to launch a vehicle designed to 'solar sail' in space, to the best of my knowledge. The Japanese experiment was a laudable mechanical engineering exercise but at an altitude that 'photon pressure' was hopelessly dominated by aero effects. The two Russian reflectors were exactly that -- reflectors -- and not sails in any operational sense (and one failed to deploy properly anyhow), and all Russian commentary at the time discussed only illumination applications on Earth's surface, not spacecraft propulsion. It's also the Cosmos-1 explicit intention to perform controlled 'photon pressure' applications, which makes them different from the first space vehicle that actually experienced substantial 'solar sail' effects, Echo-1 back in 1960. So we can find bits and pieces of technology and physics in the past, which only makes Cosmos-1 a rightful and honorable heir to previous spaceflight, but also an innovative and potentially revolutionary FIRST."

David Portree [website] notes: "I think another factor that should be taken into account in judging this achievement is how long Friedman, et al. have worked toward this goal. Cosmos-1 is a realization of work begun in connection with the "purplest pigeon," the Comet Halley Rendezvous proposal of the mid-late 1970s. If it works, Cosmos-1 will be a real triumph for all those wild-eyed Halley chasers. Working on a concept for 30 years and making it really happen counts for a helluva lot, I think. BTW, Mariner IV had "solar sail" paddles to aid attitude control way back in 1964-65."

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on June 16, 2005 12:40 AM.

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