Non-flying weather hampers search for Progress debris impact area

GORNO-ALTAISK, September 2 (Itar-Tass) — The non-flying weather in the Republic of Altai has not been allowing for the second day in a row to continue the search for the possible site of the Progress M-12M cargo spacecraft debris fall. On Thursday, because of rain, low clouds and fog, the search group did not fly to the mountains. On Friday morning it also stays on the ground waiting for permission to take off. The helicopter will fly for the search operation as soon as the weather improves, deputy chief of the impact areas department of the Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) Alexander Dvurechenky told Itar-Tass.

According to him, on August 31 the search was conducted from the air in the Turachak and Ulagan districts, as well as along the eastern shore of Lake Teletskoye. In addition, the search group questioned shepherds working at remote sites, workers of taiga reserved cordons and other eyewitnesses who on the night of the incident could see something. As before, this search has not yielded results so far, which so far confirms the main version of what happened – the spaceship debris did not reach the ground burning in the atmosphere.

Daily samples of soil and water in the supposed spaceship crash site for the presence of rocket fuel and kerosene in them have given negative results. The background radiation in the area also does not exceed the natural parameters.

“The ongoing monitoring of radiation background over recent days has not found any changes, including in the area of the Karakoksha settlement,” the Altai Republic’s department of the Russian Federal Consumer Rights Protection and Human Health Control Service (Rospotrebnadzor) said earlier. Karakoksha is most probably the closest settlement to the site of the possible fall of the Progress debris. Rospotrebnadzor has been taking samples of soil near the village of Karakoksha, water samples from the Biya, Karakoksha and Sarakoksha Rivers. The department also said that “monitoring conducted be specialists of the epidemiological department has not found any victims of the rocket fall or persons with acute poisoning.”

The Progress M-12M crashed on August 24. The cargo spaceship launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome was to deliver more than 2.6 tonnes of cargoes to the International Space Station (ISS).

Heptyl, a highly toxic missile fuel, may present a potential danger for those who are in the area of the space fragments’ drop. The space industry told Itar-Tass that there were 800 kilograms of heptyl aboard the Progress tug, planned for needs of the International Space Station.

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 Ekspress-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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