Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Planetary Society have stated that their experimental solar sail craft Cosmos 1 is probably lost, but intermittent signals have given them some hope the mission has made orbit.

The 100kg vehicle was launched atop a converted ICBM from a Russian nuclear submarine, however it is believed the first stage of the Volna booster rocket failed 83 seconds into the flight. The team behind the $4m craft have a slim hope that it managed to reach a low orbit, and efforts to pick up the tracking beacon are continuing.

Signals have apparently been received by at least two tracking stations around the globe – in the Czech Republic, and in the Marshall Islands. The Planetary Society are being assisted by the US Strategic Command in an effort to find the spacecraft, if it did make orbit.

However a scientist from the Czech station has said they have received only noise.

If Cosmos-1 is in orbit, the onboard computer may still be functioning and could begin to unfurl the 30 meter diameter sail in three days time.

A solar sail harnesses pressure exerted upon the sail by photons from the sun to push the craft along. Although its acceleration is very slow, it can go on nearly indefinitely (as long as the Sun exists). It was hoped Cosmos-1 would use a 30 m diameter sail to reach an orbit 800km above the Earth, as a demonstration of the potential of the technology.