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MIR space station A Progress rocket shortly before launch
Mir was the focus of ambitious experiments to advance science (AP)
In February, a departing Progress M-15 cargo ship unfurled a huge “space sail” as part of the Znamya-2 or “banner” experiment. Russian scientists were trying to see if light from the Sun could be reflected to brighten dark Russian cities in winter.

But Znamya 2's eight reflective panels did not join along their edges, as had been planned, and the resulting gaps were blamed for halving the amount of sunlight reflected on to the darkened Earth below.

Given the technical problems, however, and the huge space reflector that would be needed to be effective, most analysts never believed the plan would ever be successful.

Another attempt was made in 1999, but the mirror snagged on an antenna and the mission failed. Russian officials decided against any further attempts.

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