The Planetary Society announced plans on Monday to test a new means of space travel using beams of sunlight. The aptly-named "LightSail" spacecraft would be launched for a test flight aboard an Atlas V rocket in May -- paving the way for a full-fledged flight in 2016 -- according to a statement released by the U.S.-based space advocacy and exploration group.

The proposed propulsion system, which uses large, reflective surfaces called solar sails, aims to utilize the energy stored in photons -- elementary particles that transmit light -- to set sail on sunlight. Although photons do not have any mass, the momentum transferred when a photon collides with the solar sail could, in theory, propel the spacecraft forward, providing a continuous, albeit small, acceleration.

“The idea ultimately is to be able to tack like a sailboat on each orbit,” Executive Director of the society William Sanford Nye -- popularly known as “Bill Nye the Science Guy” -- told The New York Times, adding that both LightSails were built for less than $4 million.

In order to harness the energy stored in photons, the LightSail, which, during the launch, will be about the size of a loaf of bread -- 4 inches by 4 inches by 1 foot -- will unfurl four triangular pieces of Mylar, less than 1/5,000th of an inch thick, after it has spent a month in orbit, according to the statement. These solar sails will form a square reflective surface spanning nearly 345 square feet.

Although the LightSail will not fly high enough to escape Earth's atmospheric drag during the first test flight in May, the second test flight, scheduled for 2016, will take the spacecraft 450 miles above the Earth before deploying its sails.

“We strongly believe this could be a big part of the future of interplanetary missions … it will ultimately eventually take a lot of missions a long, long way,” Nye told the Times.