AN ATTEMPT to launch a spacecraft propelled by sunlight was reported to have failed last night when the booster rocket broke down shortly after lift-off in the Barents Sea.
The launch of Cosmos 1 was part of a joint Russian-American attempt at the first controlled flight using a solar sail. An official in Russia’s Northern Fleet told the RIA-Novosti news agency that the engine had failed 83 seconds after the launch from a submerged Russian submarine.
The official said that a search was under way for the solar sail and the Volna booster rocket.
The privately funded spacecraft blasted off in a converted Russian intercontinental ballistic missile at a cost of $4 million (£2.2 million).
Its sponsors, the Planetary Society, based in the US, had hoped that the craft, which was intended to deploy a petal-shaped solar sail to power its planned orbit around the Earth, would demonstrate that sunlight could propel interplanetary space travel.
The “solar sail” consists of eight 49.5ft (15.1m) structures resembling the blades of a windmill. Each blade can be turned to reflect sunlight in different directions so that the craft can tack like a yacht in the wind.
The sails are designed to capture light particles emitted by the sun. In theory, streams of such particles could push the reflecting sail through space the way wind propels sailboats.
Solar sails are seen as a potential means for achieving interstellar flight, allowing spacecraft to build up velocity and cover large distances. All previous attempts to unfold similar devices in space have failed.
Story source www.timesonline.co.uk