Wednesday, June 22, 2005

UPDATE: Cosmos 1 'Lost in Space'

Cosmos 1
Credit: Rick Sternbach, The Planetary Society

The Morning After

by Emily Lakdawalla
The Planetary Society
6-22-05

     I showed up here at POP at about 7 am local time. I'm the only one here in the building at the moment. It was a very late night after a very long day yesterday, and we all knew that if anything there would be more people asking questions today; we needed the rest.

     Over our night and their day there has been some information coming out of Russia. To recap where we stand: yesterday the launch appeared to happen roughly on time. The Navy reported first stage firing. Then the signal of the spacecraft was detected over the temporary ground station at Petropavlovsk. But it wasn't detected over Majuro, which had us concerned. And then U. S. Strategic Command reported that they did not see our spacecraft in the sky. Later in the afternoon, we heard back from our man in Majuro that he thought actually he may have detected a weak signal. And then we heard the same from Panska Ves via Lou. That all seemed to add up to a consistent story that while there may have been a problem on board, our spacecraft likely was in orbit.

     Since then, there has been a new report circulating from Russia:

     ITAR-TASS is now quoting officials of the Russian Navy and the Makeyev design bureau as saying that the Volna first stage unexpectedly shut down 83 seconds after lift-off, adding that unlike the standard Volna SLBM the "space version" does not have an automatic destruct system for such an eventuality.


     About this, Lou made a statement last night:

     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.”

     What this means is that we are still dealing with a very wide range of possibilities for what could have happened yesterday, made even wider by the fact that it kind of sounds like some of the information that we have is contradictory. If the launch vehicle failed, how did we detect signals at Majuro and Panska Ves? On the other side, if the launch vehicle had a problem but still managed to put the spacecraft into some orbit, why didn't Strat Comm see it last night? We don't know what to make of it. We hope to get more information from Lou in an hour or two. Stand by for that.

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