A malfunction in a Russian submarine-launched rocket, appears to have doomed a solar sail experiment that researchers had hoped would into orbit

“The Makeev Rocket Design Bureau, which is in charge of the Volna, believes that the rocket’s stages never separated and it went down near Novaya Zemlya, the archipelago that separates the Barents Sea from the Kara Sea,” Lou Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society, one of the sponsors of the Cosmos 1 solar sail project, said in an e-mail posting on the society’s web site.

There was faint hope that the spacecraft somehow made it into a lower orbit than intended. Data from three different ground stations around the world picked up a signal that appeared to be that of the solar sail spacecraft. “Because there is a slim chance that it might be so, efforts to contact and track the spacecraft continue,” Friedman wrote. “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.”