Bad weather delays search for Progress M-12M fragments until Saturday

GORNO-ALTAISK, September 2 (Itar-Tass) —— The search for fragments of the Progress M-12M freighter, which was launched from Baikonur last week but failed to reach the designated orbit because of the engine halt in the third stage of the Soyuz-U rocket and fell over highland areas of the Republic of Altai, will continue on Saturday. Bad weather prevents the search team of the Federal Space Agency to do that now.

Deputy head of the agency’s search department Alexander Dvurechensky told Itar-Tass that low clouds did not allow a helicopter to take off. The helicopter was supposed to fly over the eastern and western outskirts of the village of Balykcha in the Republic of Altai where rocket fragments might have fallen.

Rain, low clouds and fog make the aerial monitoring impossible on Thursday, as well.

The aerial search started on August 31. Land teams questioned shepherds, foresters and other possible eyewitnesses. No fragments were found, which might prove the theory that the rocket fragments burned in the atmosphere.

Daily tests of soil and water for rocket fuel and kerosene bring negative results. The radiation level is normal, chief public health official of the Altai Republic Leonid Shchuchinov said on Thursday.

Representatives of the Federal Space Agency and academic institutes of Siberia and Moscow are engaged in the aerial monitoring.

Researchers of the Moscow State University left the expedition on Tuesday for testing samples of Altai soil and water for possible traces of rocket fuel at their laboratories. Up till now daily tests of soil and water have proven negative, head of the monitoring center Alexander Puzanov told Itar-Tass. “We take the search in the Altai zone very seriously although we think that Progress M-12M burned in the atmosphere before it could reach the ground,” he said.

The freighter had over 2.6 tonnes of cargo onboard. Heptyl, a highly toxic rocket fuel, may present a potential danger. An aerospace industry source told Itar-Tass that the freighter was carrying about 800 kilograms of heptyl to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Progress M-13M freighter was brought to the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan on Saturday. “Representatives of the Energia Corporation unloaded the spaceship from the train and prepared it for testing,” the Federal Space Agency said on Sunday.

The spaceship may fly to the ISS in October.

“The ISS has sufficient reserves to last until the arrival of the freighter in October,” Russian mission supervisor Vladimir Solovyov said on August 24, after the crash of Progress M-12M. “There are fuel reserves for keeping the ISS orbit at a due height [currently, the ISS stays about 400 kilometers above the Earth]. There are sufficient reserves of oxygen, water and food, too.”


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