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Russian sub launches solar sail

A drawing of the Cosmos 1 Solar Sail
A drawing of the Cosmos 1 Solar Sail  

ATLANTA (CNN) -- The prototype of a spacecraft that will coast on solar winds successfully launched Thursday night from a submarine in the Barents Sea, managers of the private $4 million mission said.

The Planetary Society, an international group of space enthusiasts sponsoring the flight, said the Cosmos 1 Solar Sail launched at 8:33 p.m. ET.

NASA engineers have worked for years on solar sail technology, which they theorize could make interstellar travel possible. Streams of protons from the sun would bounce off the super-reflective materials of thin, lightweight, expansive sails, giving them enough push to travel great distances.

The submarine carrying the Cosmos 1 Solar Sail left port earlier in the day from a town about 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Moscow on Thursday to steam to a site near Severomorsk. With the sub still submerged in the Barents Sea, the spacecraft -- hitched on a Russian missile -- blasted into the sky, the society said.

Cosmos 1's ride into sub-orbital flight came hitched to a modified intercontinental ballistic missile.

After this week's test, an orbital flight will take place later this year, the Planetary Society said. In the future, a windmill-shaped version of the solar sail will use the solar winds to propel itself through space, the society said.

The prototype was expected to fly earlier but suffered serious damage as Russian technicians conducted pre-flight tests in April. The re-entry shield inflated inside the closed capsule and pyrotechnic devices meant to separate sections of the craft accidentally fired.

• The Planetary Society

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