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First Controllable Solar Sail Launched Today 237

Posted by timothy
from the now-for-obedience-school dept.
clustermonkey writes "The first controllable solar sail was launched earlier today from a Russian sub in the Barents Sea. The Planetary Society, founded by Carl Sagan, organized the project and were funded by Cosmos Studios, founded by Sagan's widow. There have been 2 other solar sail deployments by others, but this will be the first to attempt controlled flight. The sail is scheduled to deploy June 25." All may not be well, though: Snot Locker writes "The Cosmos 1 Weblog is showing that, although the launch initially looked successful, they can't seem to find it or hear it. Bummer. Previous Slashdot coverage on the Cosmos 1 Solar Sail mission can be found here."
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First Controllable Solar Sail Launched Today

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  • "Bummer" (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @08:17PM (#12877354)

    It's a bit more than a "Bummer":

    Engineer #1: Yessiree, that solar sail is up there! This calls for a celebration!
    Engineer #2: Um. Where is it?
    Engineer #1: [points] Up there!
    Engineer #2: Where up there?
    Engineer #1: Way, way up there.
    Engineer #2: You have no idea, right?
    Engineer #1: [weak laugh] Nah.
    Engineer #1: [shrug] Bummer.
    • There are a few explanations here:
      • The secret remenants of the US 'star wars' program decided it was a 'terrorist act' and shot it down (and now they've realized that they can't even boast of this 'success').
      • The russians forgot to disable the 'stealth' features of the missile.
      • The launch was on paper only. They didn't expect people to actually check the results.
      • It was fueled with hydrogen Peroxide and alcohol... too much of the alcohol was saved to celebrate the successful launch.
      • Translation error in th
    • Well... it just blew away, I guess...
  • Deja Vu (Score:5, Informative)

    by rufusdufus (450462) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @08:21PM (#12877374)
    I swear I remember this happening before. [spaceflightnow.com]
    • Earlier today on Spaceflightnow (the quote seems to be gone in the current version of the story), the project leader was quoted as saying something like "there is a significant chance of failure". Similarly, the leader of the ill-fated Beagle 2 Mars lander publicly stated that he estimated the chances of success at about 50-50. I think we could all waste a lot less time if we just ignored missions whose own leaders inspire that much confidence. In space, you have zero tolerance for error, so what may see
  • uh oh (Score:5, Funny)

    by MrDoh! (71235) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @08:21PM (#12877375) Homepage Journal
    I'm just waiting for when it comes back as a near omnipotent being and starts demanding to see it's creator.
    • Re:uh oh (Score:2, Funny)

      by Ravatar (891374)
      I, for one, welcome our sun sucking fan-blade overlords.
  • 404 File Not Found

    The requested URL (science/05/06/21/2251211.shtml?tid=160&tid=126&ti d=14) was not found.


    ...

    Unfortunately I can't locate a google cache for the missing spacecraft.

    Anyone able to post a mirror?

  • Always the risk. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by reality-bytes (119275) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @08:23PM (#12877390) Homepage
    I really rather hope this project is okay and only suffering from a 'glitch'. (ie: unexpected orbit)

    The trouble is, every time you take what is essentially a robotically controlled device and send it into space giving it a good *shake* in the process (rockets really do vibrate a lot), you run the risk of breaking something.

    Of course, you combat this by duplicating as much of the systems as you can but when your experiment requires a very low mass (ala solar sail controller) I wonder how much redundancy is possible?

    Still. I hope Cosmos sparks back to life /is found and they get a sucessful experiment. I would be good to prove that solar-sailing is a viable solar-locomotion concept rather than just proving that electronics packages are fragile things.
    • Re:Always the risk. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Rei (128717) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @08:45PM (#12877529) Homepage
      If you want to know what the people organizing the mission are thinking, the Planetary Society's Latest Update [planetary.org] section is a good spot to go. As it stands, the following has been stated:

      * The signal didn't dissapear suddenly when the kick fired - it became irregular, and then dissapeared after three minutes.

      * The signal was received clearly after launch for six minutes.

      * There were irregular readings coming from the Volna; however, clearly the craft detached, or there wouldn't have been six minutes of signal.

      * STRATCOM can't find the satellite. That doesn't mean that it's gone - only that it's not where they told them to look. Likewise, the lack of ground station reception could mean the same thing. It could be in the wrong orbit, which is actually a more common phenominon than a total craft loss.

      * The chance of signal acquisition at the early two stations was only considered marginal to begin with. The big test will be at the permanent stations in Paska Ves, and especially the Tarusa and Bear lakes.

      * Not receiving a signal from a spacecraft during the first few orbits is "not extremely unusual". Nonetheless, they do sound a bit nervous.
    • The trouble is, every time you take what is essentially a robotically controlled device and send it into space giving it a good *shake* in the process, you run the risk of breaking something.

      New rule, people! No British nannies in space.
    • Mission controllers may have received signal from solar sail [sfgate.com] By JOHN ANTCZAK, Associated Press Writer
      Tuesday, June 21, 2005
      (06-21) 22:13 PDT Pasadena, Calif. (AP) --

      Signals may have been detected from the Cosmos 1 solar sail spacecraft that lost communication during launch on a converted missile fired from a Russian submarine under the Barrents Sea, mission officials said late Tuesday night.

      The news came after an all-day search for Cosmos 1, which is intended to demonstrate that a spacecraft

  • Presumably... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Otter (3800) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @08:24PM (#12877394) Journal
    ...if the craft suffered "failure to enter orbit at all", presumably that means it hit space and kept going, right? I'd imagine someone would have noticed a Russian ICBM falling randomly out of the sky.
    • by Tackhead (54550) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @08:34PM (#12877475)
      >...if the craft suffered "failure to enter orbit at all", presumably that means it hit space and kept going, right? I'd imagine someone would have noticed a Russian ICBM falling randomly out of the sky.

      In other words, what you're trying to say is that somewhere downrange of post-Soviet Russia, solar sail will eventually find yo*CRUNCH*
      NO CARRIER

      • Gieven the young average age of the slashdot crowd, many may not be familiar with the joys of BBS'ing on modems, so I dare say that in post-Soviet Russia, no carrier jokes are for old people.

        I mean, in post Soviet Russia, ICBM welcomes you as overlord for old people.
    • NO, I think what it means is it hit the ground with a resounding THUNK!

      There's a good chance that Russian/US military know exactly where the damn thing fell but aren't telling anyone lest they give away previously unconfirmed capabilities or somesuch.
    • by TheKidWho (705796) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @08:46PM (#12877532)
      I know what really happened

      You see, the Russians never launched Cosmos 1, they realized that these guys would be a bunch of suckers so what they did, is they got them to pay for the launch, and then launched their own new spy satellite In the same orbit that Cosmos 1 was supposed to be in. And now they are going to tell them "tough luck, you must have out bad communications equipment on her or something". So the Americans pay the money, and the Russians get to launch their spy satellite.

      Next Week on Conspiracy Theory 101
      Sony and Microsoft are really in bed against Nintendo!
    • No. Rockets don't accidentally escape into space--it takes way too much fuel. If it were that easy, the sail would have been sent on a trajectory away from earth.
    • It got high enough to burn up upon reentry, but not high enough to achieve orbit.

      That or it's simply not in its intended orbit, in which case reestablishing signal is a matter of finding the thing (which will happen eventually) so that one can figure out which way to point the groundstation antennas.

    • Best place for info on launches etc:

      http://planet4589.org/space/jsr/latest.html

      Copy and paste the link as /. is barred after a previous bad experience.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    When I tied a Keep on Truckin' T-shirt to an Estes Andromeda.
  • Bummer indeed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by J05H (5625) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @08:24PM (#12877396) Homepage
    There is a chance that it will succeed in deploying. If it's lost, it's double the downer: I helped pay for it as a Planetary Society member. PS also developed a Mars Microphone for the MPL (lost), DVD and sundial for current rovers and a balloon-borne "snake" of sensors that never flew. Dammit, I want this one to work, finally.

    ad astra!
    • Re:Bummer indeed (Score:3, Interesting)

      by QuantumG (50515)
      So umm, why can't all space research be paid for this way? Or at least, why don't US citizens have the option to pay some percentage of their tax to NASA when they file their tax returns?
      • quant- plz read the replies from others,they all make very valid points.

        A surprising amount of space research is done privately: AmSat HAM radio satelites, several Planetary Society devices, the (failed) Boston University TERRIER and the successful UCal/SpaceDev CHiPSAT. Not sure of the numbers, but big terrestrial telescopes are funded by private foundations as well as the Feds. Did you, perhaps, miss the SpaceShipOne flights last year? This is only the start of commercial/private space development. Not t
    • Per ardua. Hang in there.
  • here [top.rbc.ru]

    In short, at 83rd second engine stopped working for unknown reason, and the whole thing is currently being intensively searched for. Probably Russian ICBMs are not so good for launching satellites after all.
  • by NardofDoom (821951) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @08:27PM (#12877416)
    "...atop a converted ICBM..."

    Just like some other craft we happen to know [startrek.com].

  • This is from Reuters, via CNN [cnn.com]:

    Tracking stations failed to pick up signals from an experimental solar-driven orbiter launched on Tuesday from a Russian submarine, raising the prospect the mission had failed.

    This includes stations in Russia's Kamchatka peninsula, the Marshall Islands, Alaska, the Czech Republic, and two stations outside Moscow.

    Hopefully it's a temporary problem, or just a miscalculated orbit.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Engineer #1: A few hundred kilometers that way or this way wouldn't matter...
      Engineer #2: Miles
      Engineer #1: What do you mean "miles"?

      pwnd!
  • What would be really cool is if it came back online in a week or so, and was many hundreds of thousands of miles away already...
  • by centauri (217890) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @08:36PM (#12877489) Homepage
    ... it must be halfway to Coruscant by now.
  • According to the official timeline the first high-quality ground station contact will be approximately Jun 22 04:23 UTC (Jun 21 21:23 PDT) - that is 8 h 37 m into the launch, i.e. it hasn't happened yet. I guess someone got a bit overly eager to report news or simply didn't have a clue or something similar in the time-honored Slashdot fashion...

    To quote from the official timeline (which I will not link to on Slashdot for obvious reasons):
    "First high-quality ground station contacts: Tarusa and Bear Lakes
  • Not looking good! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Brett Buck (811747) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @09:04PM (#12877620)
    The report of data suddenly looking "noisy" about the time the final stage fired is a pretty classic bad news situation. The sequence is usually: "looking good!" "clean separation!" "5-4-3-2-1,kick motor ignition" data lost followed by, a short time later "radar indicates multiple targets..." Not that I am hoping, but it's a really bad sign. Brett
    • Re:Not looking good! (Score:3, Informative)

      by Detritus (11846)
      According to this [astronautix.com], all of the rocket's stages were powered by storable liquid fuel engines. So it should be immune to the inherent risks of a solid fuel kick motor. An engineer once told me that a certain percentage of kick motors just blow up, despite x-ray inspections and other tests.
    • Sounds like clogging in the fuel line, leading to explosion of the final state booster to me.

      Man, I wonder how many nukes Soviets would fail to launch back in the cold war days.
  • by fname (199759) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @09:04PM (#12877621) Journal
    Spaceflight Now has posted a story [spaceflightnow.com] about the launch. The 1st stage failed after 83 seconds.
    • From the story:

      the first stage engine experienced "a spontaneous stoppage" 83 seconds into launch. The vehicle was allowed to continue flying because it lacked a destruct system. But there has been no further confirmation of the report.

      I just love that. The vehicle was "allowed" to continue to fly, because there's no way in hell they could stop it... Oops.

      Well, I hope it's doing ok, wherever it is.
  • by multipartmixed (163409) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @09:04PM (#12877624) Homepage
    ...hanging out with the Vikings.
  • by ZSpade (812879) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @09:07PM (#12877639) Homepage
    It's in space!
  • So, by the time it gets to pluto, it'll be gone past in a few milliseconds, at 100,000 miles per hour or something. Forgive me for asking, but...

    How do they get the damn thing to stop?!
  • ...we're just saying that maybe you want to stay inside for the next few days. Perhaps underground. If you decide otherwise and see an unexpected meteor shower, please give us a call.
  • by Cervantes (612861) on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @01:43AM (#12878841) Journal
    I'll probably get modded down for this, but...

    The Project Operations Assistant.
    Let's review:
    Sexy foreign (to me) accent... check
    Geek... check
    Cute... check
    Knows how to blog... check
    Plays with models all day long ... check
    Gets to work with stuff that makes a REALLY BIG BOOM... check

    Can take a joke... we'll see. :)
  • really. probably a very regretable action next morning. but hwat esle is ther eto do with ca computer when drunk?
  • It appears the spacecraft is still alive, but in a lower orbit than expected. Here is the article [reuters.co.uk].
  • by wronski (821189) on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @02:59AM (#12879011)
    This is just in on http://www.cnn.com/2005/TECH/space/06/21/russia.co smos.reut/index.html/ [cnn.com]
    PASADENA, California (Reuters) -- Cosmos 1, the first solar sail-powered spacecraft, appears to be "alive" and sending signals to tracking stations but could be in a lower orbit than planned, said mission experts in California, late on Tuesday.
    Telemetry data received by three tracking stations in the Pacific Ocean, Russia and the Czech Republic seemed to show that Cosmos 1 made it into orbit, mission staff at the Planetary Society said.
    Mission controllers discovered after reviewing telemetry data from the stations that the craft had signaled its passage during what had been believed to be several hours of radio silence, said Planetary Society co-founder Bruce Murray.
    "The good news is we have reason to believe it's alive and in orbit," Murray said. "The bad news is we don't know where it is."
  • .... of a comment by a Pentagon spokesman after yet another failed anti-missile test: "you have to remember this IS rocket science!"

  • Don't use ground tracking stations- let the satellite calculate its own position using GPS and then report it through a satellite network.

    It's cheaper, and should provide continuous tracking and control anywhere.

    I think a standard INMARSAT-C terminal could be used for this purpose, as long as the local oscillator is replaced with a unit that uses the GPS signal to calculate the doppler vector to the satellite and apply a correction to the center frequency (Without doppler correction it would miss the 5kHz
  • Blown away by a freak solar storm, it's now racing away from Earth at 0.1 light speed, its sails in tatters, due to pass Alpha Centauri in a century or so.

    What can I say, I'm an amateur science fiction writer. Those little pesky things called 'facts' don't really bother me...

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