The Russian navy's Northern Fleet announced Wednesday the loss of the world's first solar-sail-powered spacecraft, Cosmos 1, after it was launched on a converted intercontinental ballistic missile from a Russian submarine.
A satellite monitoring the launch, "didn't establish contact, which signifies its loss," a spokesman for the Northern Fleet, Igor Dygalo, told AFP, referring to a signal that should have been picked up from the spacecraft.
The loss of Cosmos 1 was due to the failure of part of the Volna carrier that was expected to take the spacecraft into orbit after its launch from a submarine in the Barents Sea, Russia's Roskosmos space agency said on its Internet site.
"Due to the spontaneous failure of the motor of the first part of the Volna missile carrier at the 83rd second of the launch, the unique device 'solar sail' did not reach its orbit," Roskosmos said.
Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency cited a senior source involved in the project as saying the spacecraft had probably come down somewhere near New Zealand.
However, the US organisation overseeing the project, the Planetary Society, said it was too early to write off the launch, as signals had been picked up from Cosmos 1, albeit not in the correct orbit.
"We feel reasonably confident that what we saw was real signal... what this means is that we are probably in orbit, but it's not the orbit that we thought it was," the Pasadena, California-based Planetary Society said on its Internet site.
Signals from Cosmos 1 were meant to reach Earth once the craft reached orbit about an hour from its launch at 19:46 GMT on Monday.
With the project, scientists had hoped to prove that rays of light could provide a limitless energy propulsion source for space voyages.
Built by Russia's Lavochkin Association and the Russian Academy of Science's Space Research Institute, Cosmos 1 carried eight triangular sails made of tough, reflective and ultra-thin Mylar, one-fifth the thickness of a plastic trash bag.
Although the spacecraft weighed only 100 kilograms (220 pounds), its sails were together supposed to form an enormous mirror 30 meters (100 feet) in diameter that would absorb enough energy to propel it at much higher speeds than those reached by previous spacecraft.
The joint US-Russian project cost four million dollars in private funds, with the bulk of funding coming from US Cosmos Studios, but the launch itself funded by the Russian government.
NASA has begun designing its own solar spaceship capable of carrying 240 kilograms (531 pounds), with a sail the size of a football field.
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Cosmos-1 Fails To Make Contact After Launch
Los Angeles (SPX) June 21, 2005
The first spacecraft to be powered by a solar sail was launched today from a Russian submarine using the refitted ICBM launcher known as the Volna. Mission control is still awaiting confirmation the spacecraft is in orbit. However, with two overpasses now complete with no contact, the situation is looking grim with Russian media reporting a failure during the first stage burn.
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