National Geographic News
Russian space agency officials said Cosmos 1, the world's first solar sail spacecraft, failed to reach space yesterday.
Agency spokesman Vyacheslav Davidenko told the Associated Press in Moscow that the Volna booster rocket that carried the spacecraft failed 83 seconds after it was launched from a Russian nuclear submarine under the Barents Sea.
"The booster's failure means that the solar sail vehicle was lost," he said.
The four-million-dollar (U.S.), joint mission was the brainchild of the Planetary Society, a nonprofit group of space enthusiasts based in Pasadena, California.
Equipped with eight windmill-like Mylar sails, Cosmos 1 was designed to harness the power of solar windsthe stream of charged particles emitted by our sun.
The spacecraft was expected to orbit Earth once every hundred minutes and remain aloft for about a month.
Project backers said the mission's principal goal was to demonstrate the feasibility of solar-sail-powered flight.
A secondary goal was a "social experimentthe ability of a private group of enthusiasts to launch a space mission," project director Louis Friedman, said in a media statement.
In theory, spacecraft powered by solar sails are capable of nearly constant acceleration in the void of space.
The vehicles have no need for conventional engines and thus never run out of fuel. Solar-sail proponents say the experimental vehicles, while still unproven, could offer the fastest and most feasible means of interstellar space travel.
Backers add that solar-sail spacecraft that venture beyond the reach of our sun's rays could be powered by Earth-based lasers trained on the crafts' sails.
Several countries, including Russia, Japan, and the United States, have experimented with solar-sail technology. But none have used solar sails as the sole means of propulsion in a spacecraft.
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