NTV via AP
The Demonstrator spacecraft is seen in this picture taken from television screen on Friday.
updated 10/7/2005 5:02:27 PM ET 2005-10-07T21:02:27

Russia on Friday test-launched a collapsible mini-spacecraft, which is designed to carry cargo and even passengers from the international space station to Earth, a Russian space design bureau said.

The Demonstrator spacecraft blasted off on a converted ballistic Volna rocket from a nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea at around 1:30 a.m. (5:30 p.m. EDT Thursday), and it later descended toward the Kura test range on Russia’s Far East Kamchatka Peninsula on schedule, the Interfax news agency reported.

Searchers, however, have not found the spacecraft, according to a duty officer at the Lavochkin space design bureau, which worked on the project.

The ITAR-Tass news agency later reported that engineers had had no contact with the craft, and that workers called off their search for the night and planned to resume at daybreak.

The spacecraft is to be folded up and transported to the space station on a Russian Progress cargo ship, and will be used to bring payloads back to Earth, ITAR-Tass 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 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 Co. 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, but this one worked, ITAR-Tass said.

“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.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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