Hopes dim for missing solar spacecraft

Backers of a mission to send the world's first solar sail-powered spacecraft into orbit are hoping it is "alive" despite the apparent failure of a Russian rocket taking it into space.

    Cosmos 1 was likely lost less than two minutes after takeoff

    Members of the private, California-based Planetary Society

    said

    on Wednesday that

    the Cosmos 1 was likely lost less than two minutes after

    takeoff on Tuesday.

    But they said the spacecraft might have freed itself from

    the failing Russian booster rocket and orbited long enough to

    send weak signals that were apparently received by three ground

    stations within hours of its launch.

    "We all here rate it as a 1% probability, but

    stranger things have happened and spacecraft have been found in

    unplanned orbits, so we are still hoping," Planetary Society e

    xecutive director Louis Friedman said from Moscow.

    Mission controllers have asked US Strategic Command and

    other tracking stations to continue scanning the skies for the

    missing spacecraft and said they planned to keep sending

    commands to see if Cosmos 1 responds.

    "We all here rate it as a 1% probability, but

    stranger things have happened and spacecraft have been found in

    unplanned orbits, so we are still hoping"

    Planetary Society executive director Louis Friedman

    Cosmos 1 was launched on Tuesday from a submerged Russian

    submarine in the Barents Sea in the tip of a converted

    intercontinental ballistic missile. But the disc-shaped craft

    lost contact with its controllers almost immediately.

    The Russian Space Agency said the Volna rocket's first

    stage misfired within 83 seconds of liftoff.

    The failure is the second involving the Cosmos 1 mission. A

    2001 test deployment of its 15-metre sail panels was

    spoiled because of problems with the Russian rocket.

    No regrets

    Planetary Society officials maintained all along that the

    $4-million mission, run by volunteers out of a 1920s bungalow

    in Pasadena, California, would be risky but hoped it would spur public

    interest in a race to the stars aboard sunlight-propelled

    spacecraft.

    "We have no regrets over what's happened," said Bruce

    Murray, Planetary Society chairman. "We learned a lot and I

    think we have shown what can be possible and what might be able

    to be done."

    Cosmos 1 was to have unfurled a 30-metre

    petal-shaped solar sail to power its planned orbit around

    Earth. Streams of photons, or light particles, from the sun

    would strike the ultra-thin Mylar sail and propel the craft

    forward in the vacuum of space at ever-increasing speeds.

    Nasa link

    Friedman said the society would continue to back solar sail

    technology with its own mission or by helping other teams.

    US space agency Nasa says the
    solar sail technology is viable

    It has an agreement to share data from the Cosmos

    1 mission with Nasa, which is testing solar sail spacecraft

    propulsion systems at its own research centre.

    Les Johnson, manager of the Space Propulsion Technology

    Project at Nasa's Marshall Space Flight Centre in Alabama, said

    the technology was viable and could be ready to launch on a

    science mission within a couple of years.

    "We are excited because it's a technology we need," Johnson

    said. "Solar sails are going to let us do things we currently

    can't do in space."

    SOURCE: Reuters


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