Russian space agency Rosaviakosmos on Friday test-launched a collapsible mini-spacecraft, designed to carry cargo from the international space station to Earth, on a sea-based ballistic missile, Russian news agencies reported.
The Demonstrator spacecraft, which blasted off on a converted Volna booster rocket from the Borisoglebsk nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea, began its descent toward the Kura test range on Russia's Far East Kamchatka Peninsula on schedule, the Interfax news agency reported.
Searchers, however, have not yet found the spacecraft, Interfax said, citing the Lavochkin space design bureau that worked on the project.
The spacecraft is to be folded up and transported to the international space station on a Russian progress cargo ship, and is to be used to bring cargoes back to earth, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. Its collapsible, cone-shaped body is made of light material that can withstand high temperatures and it can fly on a predictable trajectory without engines making it a cheap alternative to the Russian Soyuz spacecraft currently in use.
Demonstrator could be used, for example, to carry the results of experiments performed at the orbiting station back to Earth, space officials say.
"A successful test of the device will make it possible to use it not only for the return of cargo, but also for the evacuation of the ISS crew, and for a soft landing on other planets," ITAR-Tass quoted the Lavochkin Company as saying.
It was built on contract for the European Space Agency and the European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co., Interfax said. EADS is based in France and Germany and owns 80 percent of European aircraft-maker Airbus.
Three previous launches failed, ITAR-Tass said, but this time the Demonstrator launched successfully.
"The unfolding and inflating system worked successfully in space, the craft's heat protection worked in the dense layers of the atmosphere," ITAR-Tass quoted the Russian space agency as saying, reports the AP.