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Thursday, February 4, 1999 Published at 10:55 GMT


Znamya falls to Earth

The foil flaps limply underneath the Progress spacecraft

The foil reflector fails to open
The Russians have given up on their space mirror.

A decision was taken on Friday afternoon (Moscow time) to abandon the Znamya 2.5 experiment after they failed to get the 25-metre foil reflector to deploy properly.

[ image: Mission Controller Vladimir Soloviev: Possibilities in the future]
Mission Controller Vladimir Soloviev: Possibilities in the future
The mirror, which was supposed to reflect sunlight down on to selected cities in the Northern Hemisphere, will now be allowed to fall to Earth along with the Progress cargo vessel to which it was attached. Most of will burn up in the atmosphere - debris that survives the intense heat of re-entry will land in the Pacific Ocean.

"The mood here is very depressed," said Valery Lyndin, a spokesman for the Mission Control in Moscow. "The failure was especially painful because of huge worldwide interest that the experiment aroused."

"We have forgotten the old principle of Russian space programmes - to do something first and boast about it only after," he added.

Future prospects

Mission Control chief Vladimir Solovyov said another space mirror is sitting ready on earth, but the Znamya (Banner) experiment will not be repeated because there is no place for the object in upcoming cargo launches.

[ image: The first Znamya experiment: It should have gone like this]
The first Znamya experiment: It should have gone like this
Russian officials did not rule out that the project would be retried on the future 16-nation International Space Station (ISS). This is expected to become operational in 2000.

Had the experiment gone smoothly, the mirror would have shone light on a spot about 8 kilometers (5 miles) in diameter in a number of regions in the former Soviet Union, Germany, Czech Republic and Canada.

The experiment had attracted some criticism from astronomers who fear the development of the project could lead to an array of mirrors in the sky which would interfere with their investigation of the stars.

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