Still No Progress M-12M Debris Found, Was Insured

Still No Progress M-12M Debris Found, Was Insured

Russia has had to again suspend its so-far fruitless hunt for debris from the failed launch of Progress M-12M because of bad weather. On the good news front, however, Itar-Tass reports that the mission was insured.

The robotic Progress spacecraft was lost 325 seconds after launch due to a third stage malfunction. One theory is that the spacecraft and the third stage disingegrated in the atmosphere, which is why fragments have not been found. Nevertheless, a search is being conducted in the Altai region of Siberia amid rugged and remote terrain. Russia’s news agency Itar-Tass said today that Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, flew over the area in a helicopter for a total of seven hours on Saturday and Sunday, but the search could not resume this morning because of bad weather. Itar-Tass also revealed that the spacecraft was insured for “three billion roubles (US$103 mlliion).”

Russian engineers determined last week that a gas generator on the third stage of the Soyuz U rocket failed, causing the mishap. Although the loss of the cargo that was aboard poses little problem for the International Space Station (ISS) crew, the failure is impacting ISS operations. The Soyuz U is very similar to the Soyuz FG rocket used to launch crews. Consequently, a launch of the next three ISS crew members, scheduled for this month, has been indefinitely postponed. NASA’s space station program manager, Mike Suffredini, said last week that there is a possibility that the ISS may have to be destaffed in November if the Soyuz rocket has not been fixed and recertified for launching people.

Progress is a robotic version of the Soyuz spacecraft that is used for crews. The first series of these spacecraft, then simply called Progress, was first launched beginning in 1976 to the Soviet Salyut 6 space station. A new version, Progress M, was introduced for the Soviet Mir space station in 1986, and was later revamaped again and called Progress M1. The first Progress M1 to launch to the ISS was Progress M1-3 in 2000. The spacecraft was recently upgraded again and now carries a Progress M-(number of mission)M nomenclature. The first of this series was launched in 2008. This was the 12th launch of the current version, hence the designation Progress M-12M. NASA refers to it as Progress 44 because it is the 44th Progress spacecraft to resupply the ISS.

This was the first launch failure in the long history of the Progress program, although there was a renowned docking failure between a Progress and the Mir space station in June 1997. In that case, crew error caused the Progress to impact one of the space station’s modules, Spektr. Spektr depressurized, creating an emergency situation. The crew (Russian cosmonauts Vasily Tsibliev and Alexandr Lazutkin and NASA astronaut Michael Foale) was able to close off the Spektr module and continue operations. Mir operated for four more years until it was intentionally deorbited in 2001, although Spektr was uninhabitable for the rest of that time.

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