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Learning English - Words in the News
22 June, 2005 - Published 11:41 GMT
Solar sail
Cosmos 1

A spokesman for the Russian Space Agency says that Russia believes a prototype spacecraft powered by solar sails has been lost because of a malfunction during its launch. US-based space enthusiasts who financed the project say it is likely the mission has failed. This report from Damian Grammaticas:

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In Kamchatka in Far Eastern Russia, in Europe, and in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean radio listening stations are trying to determine whether Cosmos 1 is orbiting the earth. But Vyacheslav Davidienko, spokesman for Roskosmos, Russia's Space Agency, has told the BBC the Agency believes the craft known as the solar sail has been lost.

Cosmos 1 was launched from a Russian nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea on Tuesday night. Eighty three seconds into the launch the rocket engine in the modified ballistic missile carrying it appeared to cut out. An official with Russia's Northern Fleet has been reported as saying the launch failed.

However the Planetary Society, a group of space enthusiasts who built the solar sail, has received weak radio signals possibly from the craft. Lou Friedman of the Society said if Cosmos 1 made it into a low but stable orbit there is a small chance that all is not lost. But he added that even if Cosmos 1 did survive the launch a low orbit means it is likely to re-enter the atmosphere and burn up.

Cosmos 1 was designed to test whether it's possible to power a spacecraft by harnessing sunlight. It was carrying eight sails made of ultra-thin Mylar which would be unfurled in space like flower petals.

The enthusiasts, who raised four million dollars to finance the project, hope to show that solar sails could one day replace traditional rockets and propel spacecraft to the stars.

Damien Grammaticas, BBC News, Moscow

Listen to the words

the first design of something from which other forms are copied or developed

trying to determine
making effort to discover the facts about something

orbiting the earth
moving around the earth

ballistic missile
an object (for example a weapon) that is fired into the air at a particular angle and speed (in order to fall in the right place)

to cut out
here: to stop working

people who are very interested in something and spend a lot of time and money doing it

harnessing sunlight
controlling and using the energy (of the light) coming from the sun

opened (something that is folded); unfolded

flower petals
delicate, coloured parts of a flower, usually growing from its head

to push or move something in a particular direction

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