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Search for Progress spacecraft debris in Altai postponed till Friday

September 15, 2011, 9:56 UTC+3

On Wednesday a charred piece of cable and an aluminium palm-size piece with the words “food ration” were found

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GORNO-ALTAISK, September 15 (Itar-Tass) — There will be no search for fragments of the Progress M-12M cargo spaceship in the Altai Republic on Thursday. The operation is postponed till Friday because of minor problems with the helicopter and need to wait for confirmation from the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) that the fragments found on the southwest shore of Lake Teletskoye on Wednesday belong to Progress, chief of a branch of the impact areas department of the Federal Space Agency Dmitry Gurov told Itar-Tass.

On Wednesday, during the search resumed in the Turachak district of the Altai Republic a charred piece of cable and an aluminium palm-size piece with the words “food ration” were found. It is possible that they are fragments of the Progress spacecraft, as it was carrying food for astronauts, Gurov said.

According to him, a photograph of the fragment of the aluminium container was sent to the Federal Space Agency so that it could jointly with specialists from the RKK Energia Rocket-Space Corporation establish that it belongs to Progress. If this version is confirmed on Thursday, the search area will be adjusted towards the east of Lake Teletskoye in order to find larger fragments of the spacecraft.

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 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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