Russia loses track of space vehicle

MOSCOW, July 13 (UPI) -- Russian space officials still are looking for the Demonstrator-2 inflatable space vehicle that was launched Friday from a nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea, the TVS television network reported Saturday.

The vehicle was supposed to land on the Kura training ground on the remote Kamchatka Peninsula on Russia's Pacific coast. Earlier, Babakin Space Center spokeswoman Lidia Avdeyeva confirmed the landing, but efforts to locate the vehicle so far have failed to bear fruit, TVS reported.


Officials from Russia's Mission Control were unavailable for comment Saturday.

On Friday, Russia's Ryazan nuclear sub launched Demonstrator-2 on a converted Volna SS-N-18 intercontinental ballistic missile. The launch took place at 4:58 a.m. Moscow time, Russian Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo told reporters.

The vehicle, developed jointly by the Babakin Center, the European Space Agency and the German-based Astrium space firm, aims to revolutionize cargo deliveries and transportation of astronauts. According to designs, Demonstrator-2 will be used for carrying payloads to space stations and returning crews to Earth. Russian designers also are contemplating using the vehicle for exploration missions to other planets.

Last week, Russian space officials called on their colleagues worldwide to launch a joint effort to explore Mars.


Demonstrator-2 is small in size -- the folded-up vehicle measures less than 3 feet in diameter making it the most compact space vehicle ever made. However, its ability to inflate two thermo-proof panels it carries to up to 13 feet provides for aerodynamic breaking, which can reduce the craft's speed by nearly a thousand times.

Before landing, the vehicle can slow to a speed of about 45 feet per second -- 30 miles an hour -- ensuring a survivable impact with the landing surface.

Two previous attempts to launch Demonstrator-2 ended in failures. Two years ago, the craft's panels failed to inflate to their maximum size as the vehicle carried equipment from a space mission and eventually became lost. Then, in July 2001, it carried to space a solar sail developed by the Babakin Center, but failed to gain enough thrust during the third stage of the launch, preventing separation of the spacecraft from the booster rocket.

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