Russian nuclear submarine fails to launch solar sail

Publish date: June 22, 2005

A Kosmos-1 experimental satellite with a “solar sail” failed to reach its orbit after a launch from a Russian nuclear submarine.

“At 23:46 local time, Russian nuclear submarine K-496 Borisoglebsk (Delta-III) from its submerged position in Barents Sea successfully launched the satellite with solar sail with the help of Volna rocket, a ballistic missile converted into launch vehicle. However, due to abrupt switching off of the first booster stage at the 83rd second after the launch, it failed to reach the orbit,” a Russian Defence Ministry release said. It, however, maintained that it was a ‘textbook’ launch of the rocket by the submarine crew.

Two attempts in 1999 and 2001 to launch a similar spacecraft from a submarine in the Barents Sea had also failed, when the satellite could not separate from the rocket. This joint US-Russian experiment is the world’s first attempt to implement the idea of a “solar sail,” which will be used to propel the spacecraft with the help of “solar winds” or solar radiation. Experts say this could be as important for long space voyages as the Wright brothers’ first flight for aviation.

The Kosmos-1 spacecraft, weighing 112 kg, was to unfold the solar sail consisting of eight “petals” made of thin aluminium alloy coated film with a total area of 650 square metres around it at 825-km quasi-polar orbit. Although it formally belongs to the US Planetary Society, which had financed the project, the sail was designed and produced by the Babakin design bureau at the NPO Lavochkin Institute based in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, RIA Novosti reported.