Progress Accident May Have Been Caused by Gas Generator Failure

The Progress M12-M spacecraft being assembled (Source: RSC Energia).

“Members of the emergency commission have determined the cause of the failure of the Soyuz carrier rocket’s third stage engine,” said Roscosmos spokesman Alexei Kurznetsov, “It is a malfunction in the engine’s gas generator.”

The comment, released by Itar-tass in an August 29 press release, is the first attempt to explain what went wrong during the launch of Progress M12-M (identified by NASA as Progress 44) cargo ship, which crashed in the Altai region in Siberia after a third stage malfunction on August 24.

The region is currently inspected in search for debris: “We will use all aircraft available in the region,” said Alexander Puzanov, head of the Centre for Monitoring Carrier Rocket Debris Fallout Area in Siberia. According to Itar-Tass, no traces of toxic substances have been found in soil and water: “Everything burnt up in the air before reaching the ground,” said Puzanov.

The cargo ship carried about 3 tonnes of supplies, including food, water, fuel and equipment to the International Space Station. Several sources reported that the ISS is stocked with enough supplies, and that no critical equipment was lost in the shipping.

The failure of the Progress raises concerns over the Soyuz rocket family, which is also used to ferry astronauts and cosmonauts to the ISS. The station is currently inhabited by a six men crew, composed by Russian cosmonauts Andrei Borisenko, Alexander Samokutyayev and Sergei Volkov, NASA astronauts Ronald Garan and Michael Fossum, and Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa from Jaxa. Borisenko, Samokutyayev and Garan are expected to return to Earth aboard a Soyuz TMA-21 ship in September. According to Michael Suffredini, NASA’s space station program manager, the ISS could be moved to unmanned ops in November if Russia was unable to resume manned spaceflight by that time. The station have been constantly crewed since 2001.

Soyuz-U launch vehicle carrying the Progress M12-M cargo vehicle during rolling out (Source: RSC Energia).


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Andrea Gini

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Andrea Gini is a content strategy consultant specialized in companies of the space sector. He is founder of Space Safety Magazine, where he held the position of Editor-in-Chief until March 2015. Between 2011 and 2013 he worked in the European Space Agency in the Independent Safety Office, which overviews the utilization of the International Space Station. He previously worked as Software Developer, IT Consultant, and trainer of Java-related technologies. Andrea holds a BSc and an MSc in computer science from the University of Milano, a Master in Communication of Science from the International School for Advanced Studies of Trieste and a MSc in Space Studies from the International Space University.