Pssst. Want to launch a spacecraft on the cheap? All you need is a group of space enthusiasts, a few million dollars and a Russian ballistic missile. The Planetary Society, a Pasadena, Calif.¿based nonprofit organization dedicated to space exploration, is taking this low-budget approach to conduct the first demonstration of solar sailing¿using the pressure of sunlight to propel a spacecraft.
The Planetary Society, which has more than 100,000 dues-paying members, contracted the Babakin Space Center, located just outside Moscow, to construct and launch its spacecraft. Russian scientists had proposed the idea of boosting the craft into orbit using a submarine-launched ICBM called the Volna. Arms-control agreements require the Russians to either discard the rockets or convert them to other uses. "We are literally taking these missiles out of the battlefield," says Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society. "The plan was so practical and inexpensive that we were able to find private funding for the mission."
This article was originally published with the title Sailing on Sunlight.