Russian spaceship crashes back to Earth (Update 3)

Aug 24, 2011 by Dmitry Zaks
A NASA image released on June 7, 2011 shows the International Space Station (ISS) and the docked space shuttle Endeavour, flying at an altitude of around 220 miles. A Russian cargo space ship has failed to reach the proper orbit shortly after blasting off for the ISS news agencies quoted space industry sources as saying.

An unmanned Russian spaceship with tonnes of cargo for the International Space Station crashed into Siberia shortly after blast-off Wednesday in the latest blow to the country's embattled space programme.

The unprecedented accident raised concerns over the reserves of the six crew members on board the station and clouded the future of an ISS programme that relies almost exclusively on Russia following the retirement of US shuttles.

Both Russian officials and NASA said the ISS team -- which besides three Russians includes two US astronauts and a spaceman from Japan -- had at least two months of supplies and would not require an emergency evacuation.

But the disaster came especially hard for a Russian space programme that has suffered five previous launch failures in the past nine months and lost its most advanced commercial satellite shortly after blast-off last week.

"Attention, we have a contingency situation on board the rocket module," a flight control official reported 325 seconds (just over five minutes) into the mission in comments re-aired on state television.

"The mission is over," the announcer said as stunned scientists stared at their computer screens.

Local officials said fragments of the craft crashed into Russia's Siberian region of Altai on the border with Mongolia and China -- a remote region covered by soaring mountains and poorly accessible by road.

"The explosion was so powerful that it shattered windows nearly 100 kilometres (60 miles) away," said the region's Choya district head Alexander Borisov.

"I have lived here for 40 years and we have grown used to pieces (of detached carrier rockets) falling to the ground. But there has never been anything quite so powerful," he told RIA Novosti news agency.

Russia's Roskosmos space agency said in a terse two-sentence statement that the problem appeared to have developed in the propulsion system that led to a subsequent system shutdown.

But NASA officials said the mishap may have occurred because the Progress had problems detaching itself from its Soyuz-U carrier rocket.

State television said this was the first problem with a Russian or Soviet cargo delivery to space since 1978.

Both Russian and US space officials took immediate care to dispel suggestions that the accident may prompt an emergency evacuation of the ISS crew.

"Of course we have to study the situation, but provisionally we can say that it is not so critical that we should talk about the premature return of crew members from the ISS," mission control spokesman Vladimir Solovyov told Interfax.

"We have a very good backload of food, fuel and other consumables on board the ISS after the STS-135 shuttle mission," added NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries.

"It should not have an immediate impact on the crew."

The incident is of particular embarrassment to Russia after it celebrated the 50th anniversary this spring of the first manned flight of Yuri Gagarin -- the space pioneer who symbolised the Soviet Union's achievements during the Cold War.

Moscow suffered one its most embarrassing space failures in recent times in December when three navigation satellites for the new Russian Glonass system crashed into the ocean off Hawaii instead of reaching orbit.

Russia in February also lost a key military satellite and last week put into the wrong orbit a massive orbiter that was supposed to provide digital television and secure government communications for the eastern half of Russia.

Last week's failure reportedly prompted an angry Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to cancel a government meeting on space issues and demand a quick inquiry into what when wrong.

There was no comment from either Putin or the Kremlin on the cargo vessel disaster.

But the incident raised doubts about the future timetable for Russian missions: the next manned mission to the ISS is provisionally scheduled for September 22 and a cargo vessel is due to go up on October 28.

An industry source told RIA Novosti the crew may have to conserve both food and water because of the accident.

Another source said space officials had also informed captain Andrei Borisenko of the accident and that the team took the news calmly.

"The cosmonauts received this news with understanding," a Russian official told Interfax.

Explore further: SDO captures images of two mid-level flares

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Russian cargo spacecraft nearing ISS

Jun 17, 2005

MOSCOW, June 17 (UPI) -- A Russian cargo spacecraft has been launched into orbit successfully and will reach the International Space Station Saturday, Russian space officials said.

Russian space cargo vessel heads for ISS

Feb 03, 2010

A Russian cargo vessel took off Wednesday from the Baikonur space centre in Kazakhstan heading for the International Space Station (ISS), the control centre announced.

ISS orbit corrected

Aug 19, 2010

The orbit of the International Space Station (ISS) was successfully corrected on Thursday, an official of the Russian space flights control centre announced.

Russian cargo ship docks with ISS

Jul 29, 2009

A Russian cargo ship, launched Friday from the Baikonur space station in Kazakhstan, docked Wednesday with the International Space Station, the Russian news agency Interfax said.

Russian cargo ship fails to dock with ISS (Update)

Jul 02, 2010

An unmanned Russian Progress cargo ship on Friday failed to dock as planned with the International Space Station (ISS) after flying past the facility in a rare mishap, mission control said.

Recommended for you

SDO captures images of two mid-level flares

Dec 19, 2014

The sun emitted a mid-level flare on Dec. 18, 2014, at 4:58 p.m. EST. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts ...

Why is Venus so horrible?

Dec 19, 2014

Venus sucks. Seriously, it's the worst. The global temperature is as hot as an oven, the atmospheric pressure is 90 times Earth, and it rains sulfuric acid. Every part of the surface of Venus would kill you ...

Image: Christmas wrapping the Sentinel-3A antenna

Dec 19, 2014

The moment a team of technicians, gowned like hospital surgeons, wraps the Sentinel-3A radar altimeter in multilayer insulation to protect it from the temperature extremes found in Earth orbit.

Video: Flying over Becquerel

Dec 19, 2014

This latest release from the camera on ESA's Mars Express is a simulated flight over the Becquerel crater, showing large-scale deposits of sedimentary material.

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

yyz
not rated yet Aug 25, 2011
At the same time, Russia has grounded its Proton-M rockets after another recent launch failure: http://www.spaced...999.html

This is the same Proton-M booster that failed last year to orbit three Glonass GPS satellites due to what turned out to be human error. Now this problem with the Soyuz-U booster rocket.

Although a variety of problems have contributed to these launch failures, quality control and human miscalculation seem to be involved in most. Let's hope they can successfully rectify the problems in these two workhorse Russian vehicles.
Subach
not rated yet Aug 25, 2011
The people at SpaceX are probably dancing jigs right about now. If they can deliver reliably this is probably their greatest opportunity to win over new clients.
yyz
not rated yet Aug 25, 2011
Now it seems Russia has grounded its Soyuz flights until the cause of the malfunction can be thouroughly investigated (as an aside, several variants of the Briz-M upper stage used with the Proton-M boosters have also been problematic in the recent past: http://en.wikiped...i/Briz-M )

Hopefully this mishap with the Proton resupply vehicle will not cause any problems with the planned Space-X docking attempt later this year.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.