Just over a year after Elon Musk sent his Tesla car into space, a Siberian start-up has launched its own more modest motor satellite.
The Russian craft is not a smart sports car, but a large-scale model of a red Soviet-era Lada.
Rather than Tesla’s space-suited Starman mannequin, the ToSky start-up sent up a smaller dummy in the likeness of Dmitry Rogozin, the outspoken head of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency.
Internet users picked Mr Rogozin over other candidates, including a dummy of the late Stephen Hawking or a cactus, Radio Liberty’s Siberian news site reports. Mr Rogozin’s figure, seated at the wheel of the Lada, reached an altitude of 20km (12.5 miles) before landing 150km from the launch site with the help of a parachute.
The Tomsk-based start-up hopes to learn more about automatic stratostats, which can spend a long time in the stratosphere.
Project director Nikita Cheban told the Interfax Siberia news agency that the test flight gathered data that will allow ToSky to design vessels that can “spend more time in the stratosphere, carry heavier payloads, and develop better manoeuverability“.
The group put out a promotional video called “We sent Rogozin into near space!”, which features a smiling Rogozin cardboard cut-out flying above the clouds in a bright-red Lada before making a flawless landing in a field.
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Dmitry Rogozin is known for his forthright views on space science, often expressed in terms of Soviet-era motor mechanics. Earlier this year, he compared the old Soyuz-2 rocket to the Lada, and the new Angara missiles to Kamaz heavy-duty lorries.
He has also clashed with the US Nasa space programme on several occasions, declaring five years back that US sanctions would rebound on American space ambitions, and suggesting that Nasa should use a trampoline to send its astronauts to the International Space Station.
But has yet to tell the world what he thinks of being sent into the stratosphere in a cardboard classic car.