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Snow in Altai mountains complicates search for Progress debris

August 29, 2011, 10:23 UTC+3
The fourth this year Russian cargo spacecraft Progress was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on August 24
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BARNAUL, August 29 (Itar-Tass) — The weather conditions have been complicating the search for the Progress spacecraft debris in the Altai Republic. Snow fell in the mountains and there is thick fog there, director of the Centre for Monitoring the carrier rockets impact area in the Siberian region Alexander Puzanov told Itar-Tass on Monday.

“The search today will also be conducted from a helicopter, is the weather allows. So far it is impossible to take off,” Puzanov said. “On Sunday we were flying all day long and found nothing but traces from previous Proton launches.” Snow has fallen now. It could have covered something, but it’s unlikely.”

He also noted that samples of soil and water taken daily in the search districts have shown negative results for the presence of highly toxic substances.

“The working hypothesis is so far being confirmed. Everything has burnt in the atmosphere before reaching the ground,” Puzanov said.

On Sunday, the search for the Progress spacecraft was underway in the Choya, Turachaksk and Chemalosk districts of the Altai Republic.

The cargo spaceship crashed on August 24 at 20:55 local time, presumably in the Chebolak area of the Choya district of the Altai Republic. The Progress ship that was launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome was to deliver more than 2.6 tonnes of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). Approximately 325 seconds into flight, a malfunction was detected in the RD-0110 engine powering the Blok I third stage of the Soyuz-U rocket, which caused the onboard computer to terminate the flight through thrust termination. As a result, the vehicle failed to achieve orbit, re-entering over the Altai Republic. It was the first failure of a Progress spacecraft since launches began in 1978, and the third consecutive orbital launch failure worldwide, following the failures of Ekspress-AM4 and Shijian XI-04 less than a week previously.

Potential danger for those staying in the area of space debris fall may be posed by heptyl – a highly toxic rocket fuel. The space industry sources told Itar-Tass that the Progress spacecraft carried about 800 kilograms of heptyl intended for use on the ISS.

Puzanov earlier told Itar-Tass that in his view, fragments of the Progress ship most likely do not pose any risk to the Altai residents. At the Baikonur cosmodrome he watched the abortive launch of the Soyuz-U carrier rocket with the Progress M-12M cargo spacecraft. “The wreckage fell in the mountains. There is hardly any threat, because the propellant has burnt in the atmosphere,” Puzanov said.

The state of emergency earlier introduced in the Choya district of the Altai Republic has been lifted. The wreckage of the Progress spacecraft has not been found in the Altai Territory. The territorial emergencies department told Itar-Tass that “there is no wreckage posing a threat to life and health of the region’s residents in our territory. The region has not got in the zone of the fall.” The department noted that despite this, the emergencies services still control the situation.

During launches from Baikonur the fall of fragments of launch vehicles is possible in the Altai Territory in the Zmeinogorsk and Tretyakovsky districts. A wider area for the “space debris” fall is in the Altai Republic. Here, the impact area covers the central parts of the Iolgo, Sumultinsky, Altyntu ridges and upper reaches of the Uimen, Pyzha, Bolshaya Sumulta and Malaya Sumulta Rivers. The zone has a form of an ellipse 70 by 40 kilometres with an area of more than 2,000 kilometres and is used since 1970.

The Republic of Altai department of the Russian Federal Consumer Rights Protection and Human Health Control Service (Rospotrebnadzor) has been examining samples of water in the Biya River for the presence of hazardous substances that could get into it because of the Progress spacecraft wreckage fall. Head of the republic’s Rospotrebnadzor department Leonid Shchuchinov said last week that no toxic substances have been found in the waters of the Biya River. Biya flows into the Ob River, a major source of drinking water for many cities in Siberia. Shchuchinov also noted that Rospotrebnadzor experts are ready to go to the places of the debris fall in order to take samples of soil and water, when the exact location of the spacecraft fragments is determined.

The fourth this year Russian cargo spacecraft Progress was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on August 24. The launch of the Soyuz-U carrier rocket with the Progress M-12M spacecraft was carried out by the Russian Space Agency (Roskosmos) crews exactly on schedule - at 17:00 MSK. The spaceship was to deliver to the ISS cargoes, including food, water, fuel and equipment. The Progress M-12M docking to the ISS was scheduled for 18:40 MSK on August 26.

However, the ship failed to reach the desired orbit.

Last Wednesday, Roskosmos said that the abortive launch of a Progress transport ship on August 24 will not affect the operation of the International Space Station and its crew. “The abortive launch of the Soyuz-U carrier rocket and the failure to put the Progress M-12M transport ship to the designated orbit will not influence support the life and work of the crews of the 28/29th expeditions to the ISS,” the agency said. “Stocks of food, water and life support systems allow the crew to operate for a long time,” it said.

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