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The Planetary Society's LightSail 1 experimental solar sail is due to hitch a ride into orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in April 2016, the nonprofit society announced Wednesday. "It's fantastic that at last we have a launch date for this pioneering mission," the Planetary Society's CEO, Bill Nye the Science Guy, said in a news release. Initial mission costs are said to be around $4 million. The society has been working on solar-sailing experiments since its unsuccessful Cosmos 1 mission in 2005.

The LightSail mission calls for ultra-thin Mylar sails to be unfurled from a three-unit CubeSat called Prox-1 after launch. Those sails would cover an area of 344 square feet (32 square meters), which should make them visible to naked-eye observers on Earth when they reflect sunlight. Solar sails are powered by the push of photons from the sun, and theoretically could be used to propel spacecraft to other stars. "Star Wars" fans might recall that the evil Count Dooku used a solar sailer to make an interplanetary getaway.

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— Alan Boyle, NBC News