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Search for Progress spacecraft debris suspended in Altai

September 05, 2011, 10:38 UTC+3

Every day of the search during which the consequences of the spacecraft fall cannot be found out so far confirms the main version of the incident

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GORNO-ALTAISK, September 5 (Itar-Tass) — Non-flying weather in the Republic of Altai has again made it impossible to begin the search on Monday morning for the Progress M-12M possible fall site. The cargo spacecraft crashed in the Altai Mountains on August 24. There is low cloud cover and fog over the mountains, so the flight of a search helicopter of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) is delayed for several hours, deputy chief of the impact areas department of Roskosmos Alexander Dvurechensky who takes part in the search operation told Itar-Tass.

According to him, if the weather improves and the flight becomes possible, then the search party plan during the day to examine from the air the southern sector of the supposed impact area adjacent to the Ulagan and Ongudai districts of the republic.

On Saturday and Sunday, the search party of Roskosmos flew in a helicopter for a total of seven hours over the Ulagan, Turachak, Chemal and Choya districts. However, it failed to find any fragments and traces of the fallen spacecraft. During the helicopter’s landing the searchers interviewed the locals residents, shepherds, workers of cordons of the Altai Nature Reserve. By the evening of September 4, the total flying time of the Roskosmos search helicopter since the beginning of the search operation reached 26 hours.

Every day of the search during which the consequences of the spacecraft fall cannot be found out so far confirms the main version of the incident – the spaceship’s debris did not reach the ground, burning in the atmosphere during re-entry.

According to the Altai Republic department of the Russian Federal Consumer Rights Protection and Human Health Control Service (Rospotrebnadzor), the sanitary-epidemiological situation in the republic is stable, there are no complications. More than 150 measurements of background radiation have been taken in the areas of the supposed fall of the Progress spacecraft. Analyses of around 50 samples of soil and water taken in the area have shown no traces of heptyl in them. The epidemiological situation monitoring in these areas will continue until September 10.

The cargo spacecraft crashed on August 24 at 20:55, local time, presumably in the Chebolak area of the Choya district of the Altai Republic. The spacecraft launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome was to deliver more than 2.6 tonnes of cargoes to the International Space Station (ISS).

The highly toxic rocket fuel heptyl can pose potential danger to people staying in the space debris fall zone. The rocket-space industry sources told Itar-Tass that the Progress spacecraft carried about 800 kilograms of heptyl intended for use on the ISS.

The Progress is a Russian expendable freighter spacecraft. The spacecraft is an unmanned resupply spacecraft during its flight but upon docking with a space station, it allows astronauts inside, hence it is classified manned by the manufacturer. It was derived from the Soyuz spacecraft, and is launched with the Soyuz rocket. It is currently used to supply the International Space Station, but was originally used to supply Soviet space stations for many years. There are three to four flights of the Progress spacecraft to the ISS per year. Each spacecraft remains docked until shortly before the new one, or a Soyuz (which uses the same docking ports) arrives. Then it is filled with waste, disconnected, deorbited, and destroyed in the atmosphere. Because of the different Progress variants used for ISS, NASA uses its own nomenclature where “ISS 1P” means the first Progress spacecraft to ISS.

It has carried fuel and other supplies to all the space stations since Salyut 6. The idea for the Progress came from the realisation that in order for long duration space missions to be possible, there would have to be a constant source of supplies. It had been determined that a cosmonaut needed consumables (water, air, food, etc.) plus there was a need for maintenance items and payloads for experiments. It was impractical to launch this along with passengers in the small space available in the Soyuz. Progress spacecraft are currently used to resupply the International Space Station. Between 1 February 2003 and 26 July 2005, they were the only spacecraft available.

Progress M-12M was launched by a Soyuz-U carrier rocket, flying from Area 1/5 of the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Lift-off occurred at 13:00:11 UTC on 24 August 2011. 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 Express-AM4 and Shijian XI-04 less than a week previously.

The failure was not expected to have any immediate effect on the ISS crew, as the outpost was stocked with reserves of food, water and oxygen. The spacecraft was insured for three billion roubles (US$103 million). As a precaution, the launch of a GLONASS satellite on a Soyuz-2-1b/Fregat, which had been scheduled for 26 August, was delayed.


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