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Spacecraft Damaged During Testing

April 12, 2001|From Associated Press

A spacecraft intended to demonstrate deployment of a solar sail was damaged while undergoing testing in Russia, a mission official said Wednesday.

The extent of damage was unclear, and the craft's launch will be delayed weeks or months, said Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society in Pasadena and the Cosmos 1 project director.

The craft was scheduled for launch April 26 from a Russian missile submarine in the Barents Sea. The suborbital mission was to test how a packed sail will unfold in space. An actual solar sail flight is to be attempted by a second craft, Cosmos 1, later this year.

Solar sails use the subtle but steady pressure of sunlight to propel a spacecraft. While slow to accelerate, over time a solar-driven craft should reach useful speeds to cross great distances.

The accident occurred as the suborbital craft was testing its electrical systems, Friedman said.

Instead of the test, actual spacecraft operations began, including the firing of pyrotechnics to undo latches. Pyrotechnic circuits were part of the test but they were not supposed to fire, Friedman said.

"It's probably a procedural problem," he said.

The spacecraft will be returned to the Babakin Space Center near Moscow for repair.

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