Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Cosmos 1: the world's first solar sail

Cosmos 1, the world's first solar sail spacecraft, was launched a few hours ago (2005-06-21, 1946 GMT) from from the Russian Navy submarine which was stationed underwater in the Barents Sea offshore Russia's northern coast using a converted ballistic missile. According to the official blog of The Planetary Society and news, the fate of spacecraft is unknown until now.

Emily Lakdawalla, the Project Operations Assistant and Image Processing Coordinator, wrote:

"It is now past 3 am in Moscow, and people are exhausted. Lou has hung up the phone with us. Over there, they switched from a nominal mode of operation to one in which they will search for the spacecraft every chance they get, the next one being at about 02:39:54 UT (19:39:54 here). During that search, they'll also send a command to the spacecraft to talk. But since no station has detected the spacecraft since Petropavlovsk, and Strategic Command has not detected it either, we don't know where the spacecraft is. Again, given the lack of detection by Strategic Command the two most likely scenarios at this point are failure to enter orbit at all, or entry into an unexpected orbit. If we don't know where the spacecraft is, we don't know where the radio antennas should be pointed and when they should be listening, which could make it a long search. Hours, days, maybe even a week. We don't know."

If everything goes as scheduled, the spacecraft is supposed to unfold its solar-sail blades on June 26. Each blade is about 50 ft long and there are 8 blades in total. So the diameter of entire spacecraft would be about 100 ft with the blades deployed. So, spacecraft would be visible with naked eye at that time.

I wish them successful launch.

Emily Lakdawalla’s Blog spaceflightnow news
Learn How Solar Sail Technology Works

Update: 2005-06-22, 5:11 PM
It is now confirmed that booster rocket may have had a problem during its first or second stage firing and the spacecraft was now in wrong orbit. They got weak signals time by time. But, whatever it is, it is not the failure of solar sail project. It is just the failure of launching system. To follow the latest news read Emily Lakdawalla’s Blog.

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