August 25, 2011

Russia Evaluating Future Launches After Progress Loss


Russia still plans to go ahead with the launch of a navigation satellite on Friday after it carries out additional safety checks following the crash of a supply craft that was supposed to deliver nearly three tons of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), Russia´s federal space agency, Roscosmos, said on Thursday.

Russian authorities said they are using helicopters to hunt for the wreckage that crashed and exploded in a forested area in Siberia. The ship was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan about 900 miles southwest of the crash site. It fell after the third stage of its booster rocket failed a few minutes after launch.

The crash marks the first loss of the Progress freighter in the history of Russia´s space industry. Engineers believe the accident was caused because of a rocket engine failure. Mission Control reported that communication with the Progress 44 cargo ship was lost 5 minutes and 20 seconds after launch.

While the ISS has more than enough supplies, Wednesday´s accident threatens to delay the launch of the next crew, which is only a month away. The reason the next manned launch could be affected is due to the upper stage of the unmanned rocket that failed is similar to the ones used to launch astronauts to the space post.

Roscosmos said that the accident “would have no negative influence” on the crew of the ISS because they have ample food, water and oxygen for the time being. There are six astronauts aboard the station that orbits 220 miles above the Earth.

The accident marks Russia´s second spacecraft loss in the past nine months. Last December, a rocket and its payload of three satellites fell into the Pacific after failing to reach orbit. In the latest crash, Russia´s General Prosecutor´s Office said that lumberjacks working in the region heard a thundering boom Wednesday after the spacecraft crashed.

The accident will be investigated by a special commission created from representatives of Roscosmos and other space industry organizations.

The next Progress cargo ship will launch to the ISS before late September-early October, Gennady Raikunov, head of the Central Scientific Research Institute of Machine Manufacturing, told The Associated Press.

An unnamed official was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying all Soyuz launches would be suspended. But Roscosmos spokesman Alexei Kuznetsov said: “All decisions will be made once the work of the emergency commission (investigating the crash) is complete.”

After NASA´s shuttle program was retired earlier this summer, Russia´s Soyuz craft became the only way for astronauts to reach the ISS until private corporations can build a reliable spacecraft for NASA. NASA is currently paying Roscosmos more than $1 billion for crew transport over the next four years.

ISS Program Manager Mike Suffredini will hold a news conference at noon EDT on NASA TV.


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