Bruce BettsJun 21, 2005

The Launch of Cosmos 1: Live Reports

10:30 am PDT, June 22 (17:30 UTC)

The Planetary Society has issued the following statement on the fate of Cosmos 1, the first Solar Sail Spacecraft:

In the past twenty-four hours, the Russian space agency (RKA) has made a tentative conclusion that the Volna rocket carrying Cosmos 1 failed during the firing of the first stage. This would mean that Cosmos 1 is lost.

While it is likely that this conclusion is correct, there are some inconsistent indications from information received from other sources. The Cosmos 1 team observed what appear to be signals, that looks like they are from the spacecraft when it was over the first three ground stations and some Doppler data over one of these stations. This might indicate that Cosmos 1 made it into orbit, but probably a lower one than intended. The project team now considers this to be a very small probability. But because there is a slim chance that it might be so, efforts to contact and track the spacecraft continue. We are working with US Strategic Command to provide additional information in a day or so.

If the spacecraft made it to orbit, its autonomous program might be working, and after 4 days the sails could automatically deploy. While the chances of this are very, very small, we still encourage optical observers to see if the sail can be seen after that time.

We await further developments and information coming out of Russia, STRATCOM, and the tracking stations.

11:45 pm PDT, June 21 (6:45 UTC, June 22): Update From Moscow

Project Director Louis Friedman cautioned that some data point to a launch vehicle misfiring, one that would prevent the spacecraft from achieving orbit. He said, “That the weak signals were recorded at the expected times of spacecraft passes over the ground stations is encouraging, but in no way are they conclusive enough for us to be sure that they came from Cosmos 1 working in orbit.” The Russian space agency indicated that the Volna rocket may have had a problem during its first or second stage firing. “This,” Friedman noted, “would almost certainly have prevented the spacecraft from reaching the correct orbit.”

9:40 pm PDT, June 21 (4:40 UTC, June 22): Tracking Station Data Suggest Cosmos 1 in Orbit

Close reviews of telemetry data received at two ground stations appear to reveal weak signals from the Cosmos 1 during the first hours after the launch. The two signals were discovered independently at the Majuro portable station and the permanent station at Panska Ves through a close analysis of the data collected by the receivers around the time of the expected contact with the spacecraft.

According to Cosmos 1 Mission Operations Manager Jim Cantrell, and Planetary Society Chairman of the Board Bruce Murray, this is a strong indication that Cosmos 1 did make it into orbit around the Earth, though quite possibly not the orbit it was intended for.

In an official statement released at this time The Planetary Society said: We continue to search for the Cosmos 1 spacecraft. We have reviewed our telemetry recordings and have found what we believe are spacecraft signals in the data recorded at the tracking stations in Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka and Majuro, Marshall Islands. The review of data received at the tracking station in Panska Ves, Czech Republic also appears to indicate a spacecraft signal. If confirmed, these data will indicate that Cosmos 1 made it to orbit. We will continue to monitor planned telemetry sessions and will be working with U.S. STRATCOM (Strategic Command) to locate Cosmos 1.

4:20 pm PDT, June 21 (23:20 UTC): As Silence from the Spacecraft Continues, Cosmos 1 Team Works to Analyse its Cause

The silence from Cosmos 1 continues four and a half hours after it was launched from the submarine Borisoglebsk in the Barents Sea. "We don't know why this is" said Project Director Louis Friedman by phone from Moscow during a press conference at The Planetary Society this afternoon. "It is obviously very worrisome, but it is too early to draw any conclusions."

At 3:00 this afternoon (22:00 UTC) The Planetary Society released the following statement regarding the condition of Cosmos 1: The Cosmos 1 spacecraft was launched today but we cannot, at this time, confirm that a successful orbit injection. Some launch vehicle and spacecraft telemetry data gave ambiguous information during the launch. Since the orbit insertion burn, no information has been received from the spacecraft. There are continuing efforts to receive a signal from the spacecraft.

15 minutes after the launch Doppler data was received from the spacecraft for around 6 minutes. The signal was steady at first but became irregular about the time the orbit insertion motor was scheduled to fire. Within three minutes the signal was lost, and the spacecraft has not been observed or contacted since. According to Mission Manager Jim Cantrell, the fact that the spacecraft transmitter did turn on, as it was programmed to do, suggests that Cosmos 1 separated from the launch vehicle as planned. If a problem occurred, it may have taken place during the orbit insertion stage.

There are other possibilities as well: according to Louis Friedman, mission controllers in Russia are also concerned about a report of anomolous data during early stages of the launch. This could indicate a possible problem with the Volna launch vehicle.

At the press conference Cantrell reported that the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) was also looking for the spacecraft. STRATCOM was in touch with the Cosmos 1 team during the planning stages of the mission, and was supposed to track the spacecraft from its observation stations in Alaska and the Pacific Ocean. So far, however, STRATCOM has detected no sign of the spacecraft.

According to Cantrell, this could mean either that the spacecraft simply "is not there," or that STRATCOM weren't looking in the right place. "The spacecraft clearly wasn't where we told them that it would be" said Cantrell, "but it is possible that it passed them by."

No signal from Cosmos1 was received during the last contact period at the ground station in Panska Ves. The next possible contact will be with the Tarusa and Bear Lakes ground stations near Moscow.

"Not getting a signal from a spacecraft during the first few orbits is not extremely unusual" said Cantrell. He indicated that although the signs were not promising, the Cosmos 1 team was still far from giving up on the spacecraft and the mission.

2:50 pm, June 21 (21:50 UTC):

Cosmos 1, the first solar sail, was launched as scheduled at 19:46 UTC today from the nuclear submarine Borisoglebsk. The three stage separations occurred normally, and 15 minutes after launch a doppler signal was received at the temporary ground station at Petropavlovsk in Kamchatka. The signal lasted for around three minutes, and was then cut off for unknown reasons.

No signal has been received from the spacecraft since that time. The portable telemetry station at Majuro in the Marshall Islands did not receive a signal during the time it could have been in contact with the spacecraft. The next possible contact will be with the ground station at Panska Ves in the Czech Republic.

The fact that the spacecraft has remained silent does not necessarilly mean anything is wrong, according to Project Director Louis Friedman. Contact with the two portable stations at Petropavlovsk and Majuro was always considered marginal. We are now waiting for the contact periods with the permanent stations in Paska Ves, Tarusa, and Bear Lakes.

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