Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Eight Sheets In The Wind

solarsail.vlarge.jpg Babakin Space Center / Planetary Society
An artist's conception shows the Cosmos 1 solar sail fully unfurled in orbit. The sail is pushed by the pressure of solar radiation on its eight thin panels, and would be visible to the naked eye from Earth.

Update: (06/22/05 12:08 PM CDT) Looks like it's back to the drawing board for Cosmos. Not for the craft itself, but for the launching platform.
The world's first solar sail spacecraft crashed back to Earth when its booster rocket failed less than two minutes after Tuesday's takeoff, Russian space officials said Wednesday. [...]
Several of the tracking stations reported what could have been weak signals indicating that Cosmos 1 was orbital:
[...] The [Russian] Navy reported first stage firing. Then the signal of the spacecraft was detected over the temporary ground station at Petropavlovsk. But it wasn't detected over Majuro, which had us concerned. And then U. S. Strategic Command reported that they did not see our spacecraft in the sky. Later in the afternoon, we heard back from our man in Majuro that he thought actually he may have detected a weak signal. And then we heard the same from Panska Ves via Lou. That all seemed to add up to a consistent story that while there may have been a problem on board, our spacecraft likely was in orbit. [...]
I have thought long and hard about how to say this without denigrating the efforts, and expertise, of the entire mission. Realizing that the Project has operated on a minimal budget (~$4 million), and thusly lacks a NASA-like plethora of personnel, equipment and facilities, the end result appears to external observers as somewhat amateurish. I'm sure that there were many reasons that they chose an undersea launch from a submarine, probably all financial (see budget!), instead of a land based launch. Note also that another launch was made the same day, of a communications/military satellite, and it also failed. NASA and the U.S. military have also had some spectacular and not-so-spectacular failures in the past. The difference? Monitoring and communications. Money.

So, back to the drawing board. At $4 million a pop, one can launch a bunch of these without coming anywhere near NASA's budget.

Update: (06/21/05 9:15 PM CDT) Here's hoping that no news is good news. After what was reported as a successful launch up until time for orbital insertion, contact was lost with Cosmos 1. From The Planetary Society's Cosmos 1 Weblog:
...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. [...]
I know that all involved are terribly disappointed that the entire launch sequence culminating in a proper planned orbit did not go off like clockwork. Given hard work, perserverance, and maybe a bit of luck, they'll be able to find and activate Cosmos 1. Here's hoping...
Go there and read it, if you can. And many thanks to Emily Lakdawalla, the Project Operations Assistant and Image Processing Coordinator for Cosmos 1, and the blogger.
Update: (06/21/05 4:35 PM CDT) Things are still in limbo:
Here's what we know and don't know. Indications are that orbit burn was received over Kamchatka. That data cuts off. This could be normal, related to the rocket firing; or it could indicate an anomaly. This is unknown. We also know that no signal was received at Kamchatka, and we also know that no signal was recieved at Majuro. From here on in, there's no communication at all wth the spacecraft until it goes over Panska Ves in the Czech Republic. A contingency plan for this is now being put into effect. The Panska Ves, Tarusa, and Bear Lakes stations will send commands to the spacecraft to try to turn it on. So in sum we have some precious data and a lot of silence. We have to wait at least 30 minutes before any possible contact, and possibly longer. It looks like it may be a long night here in Moscow and a long day in Pasadena.
Waiting, waiting....
Update: (06/21/05 4:00 PM CDT) Launch success! Maybe:
A privately-backed solar sail soared skyward Tuesday on a mission to use sunlight for propulsion, though flight controllers are still awaiting confirmation that the spacecraft reached Earth orbit
The PS blog is non-responsive again.
Update: LOL, seems like this is a real MOM and POP operation!
POP is Project Operations Pasadena
MOM is Mission Operations Moscow
Update: The Planetary Society website and Blog are now up and running!
And from the Blog:

Heads up: there are TWO Russian launches taking place today, both of satellites named Cosmos-something. The one besides our own Cosmos 1 was a communications satellite. Apparently that one may have crashed. Some members of the press are mis-reporting this as a crash of us as well. WE HAVE NOT CRASHED. WE HAVE NOT EVEN LAUNCHED YET. We launch at 19:46:09 UT. Stay tuned.

Yep, appears that there was a crash, of the OTHER rocket/satellite.
Russian space officials have called off the search for an unmanned rocket and its military satellite payload that crashed just after liftoff from Plesetsk Cosmodrome Tuesday.[...]

**************** Original post *************************
At 2:46 PM CDT today (9:48 PM GMT) June 21, 2005, Cosmos 1 will be launched atop a Volna rocket from a submerged Russian submarine in the Barent Sea.
Articles available here, here, here, and here. Much more information is available on the website of The Planetary Society, but I cannot bring it up at this writing. The Planetary Society has even set up a blog(latest) about this project (thanks to River Tyde for the pointer to that), but again, their site is currently not coming up.

Cosmos 1 is a privately funded test vehicle to explore the feasibility of using solar sails for propulsion. The project is reported to have cost in the neighborhood of $4 million (hear that, NASA? $4 million, not billion, or trillion!). Private and governmental cooperation is also scheduled:
An experiment to accelerate Cosmos 1 with a microwave beam from Earth will be conducted during a later stage of the mission, making use of a NASA Deep Space Network radar antenna. The Planetary Society must approve the activation of the experiment and will do so only after the prime mission objective of controlled solar sail flight is achieved.
From it's planned circular polar orbit at an altitude of approximately 500 miles, Cosmos 1 should be visible to the unaided eye. Information on when and where to look, and what to look for, is located here.

Hopefully, this project will succeed, and my post title will not prove predictive.

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