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Search for Progress cargo spacecraft debris resumed in Altai

September 14, 2011, 10:02 UTC+3

The group on Wednesday will examine from the air the territory adjacent to the south of Lake Teletskoye

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GORNO-ALTAISK, September 14 (Itar-Tass) — The search for the supposed site of the Progress M-12M cargo spacecraft debris fall was resumed in the Altai Republic on Wednesday. The spacecraft supposedly crashed in the Altai mountains on August 24.

Last Tuesday, a search party of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) got from Barnaul to its base camp in the village of Artybash of the republic’s Turachak district only by midday and therefore did not fly for the search, the group’s new head Dmitry Gurov told Itar-Tass.

According to him, the group on Wednesday will examine from the air the territory adjacent to the south of Lake Teletskoye. The search operation was interrupted on September 5: first because of bad weather, then – because the group waited for a Roskosmos leadership decision on the expediency of the continuation of the search. At the end of last week the decision to resume the search was made.

Having flown for a total of 26 hours in the days following the crash over the Choya and four neighbouring districts, the search team found no traces or debris of the fallen spaceship. This confirms the main version of the incident – the ship’s debris did not reach the ground, burning in the atmosphere, according to representatives of the Federal Space Agency.

The Altai Republic department of the Russian Federal Consumer Rights Protection and Human Health Control Service (Rospotrebnadzor) on Tuesday reported that 57 samples of water and soil taken in the areas of the supposed fall of the launch vehicle in the Choya district showed the absence in them of the highly toxic rocket fuel - heptyl. No people with signs of acute toxic poisoning have applied to medical establishments of the Choya and the four neighbouring districts of the Altai Republic.

A total of 300 measurements of background radiation have been taken (power of gamma radiation corresponds to the values of natural background), radiological analysis of 25 samples of plants (vegetables, berries, mushrooms, nuts) from the surrounding forests and home gardens, soil and water has been made. No technogenic radionuclides have been found in them. In this connection it was decided to discontinue the laboratory tests for heptyl content.

The Progress 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 an expendable freighter spacecraft. It 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 ISS, 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 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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