Cosmos-1 May Be Lost In Space

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The solar sail craft launched on June 21 into orbit, but has not been detected yet by ground controllers.

Moscow, we have a problem. A day after departure, the experimental solar sail craft Cosmos-1 has been mostly silent and difficult to detect by its controllers in Moscow and Pasadena.

The craft launched from a Russian submarine in the Barents Sea. Carried aboard a converted ICBM rocket, the solar sail was supposed to be in orbit 500 miles above the Earth.

But a failure in the first or second stage rocket may have failed to get the craft into orbit, or it may be in a different orbit than the project team expected. Radio telescopes could take days or weeks to pick up signals from the craft.

Project Operations assistant Emily Lakdawalla speculates in her blog that the craft may be in a lower orbit than expected.

“If it was a problem with the launch vehicle, the launch vehicle more likely underperformed than overperformed. That means our orbit is more likely elliptical than circular, and also lower, and therefore faster than we expect,” she wrote.

Currently, data collected in tracking the craft seems to indicate it is still in orbit someplace. The mission seems cautiously confident that Cosmos-1 has not crashed into the Pacific Ocean.

According to the original mission plan, the team wanted to wait until the 26th to begin deployment of the solar sails, eight large sheets of Mylar that would theoretically catch photons emitted by the sun. Those sails would be controlled from the ground, in a concept similar to sailing a boat, to change the direction of the craft.

“Instead of using big, heavy chemical rockets that run out of fuel pretty quickly, you can put a sail in space and get photons to push it along for weeks or months, maybe years,” said television personality and Planetary Society vice president Bill Nye, “The Science Guy.”

David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business. Email him here.

Cosmos-1 May Be Lost In Space
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