Russian spaceship crashes back to Earth
A Russian spaceship with cargo for the International Space Station crashed into Siberia shortly after blast-off Wednesday, in the latest blow to Russia's embattled space programme.
The unmanned Progress M-12M vessel was carrying several tonnes of supplies for the international crew on board the ISS but failed to reach the correct orbit, Russian space agency Roskosmos said.
"According to preliminary information, on the 325th second, there was an operating problem with the propulsion system that led to its emergency shutdown," Roskosmos said in a two-sentence statement.
"The Progress M-12M cargo craft was not placed in its assigned orbit."
Fragments of the craft crashed into Russia's Siberian region of Altai on the border with Mongolia and China, local officials said, but there were no reports of victims on the ground.
"The fragments fell in an uninhabited area" of the Choisky district, said the head of the Altai government Yuri Antaradonov. "Emergency services are working there but the efforts are complicated by the fact it is now night," he told the Interfax news agency.
The cargo vessel had blasted off at 5:00 pm Moscow time (1300 GMT) on a Soyuz-U rocket from Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Interfax said this was the first problem with a Russian or Soviet cargo delivery to space since 1978.
Russian mission control said there was no need to evacuate the six-member crew from the ISS despite the launch failure.
"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.
Roskosmos added in a separate statement the accident "will not impact the life support" systems of the ISS crew.
An industry source told RIA Novosti news agency the accident may force Russia to temporarily ground Soyuz rocket missions and delay the next contact with the ISS.
The next manned mission to the ISS is provisionally scheduled for September 22.
A Russian space expert said the accident should not immediately threaten the safety of the six-person crew because they had a two-to-three months supply of fuel and oxygen.
"But considering that the (US) shuttles no longer fly, Russian mission control may decide to reduce the size of the ISS crew because of supply problems," analyst Sergei Puzanov told Interfax.
The incident comes just weeks after the end of the US space shuttle programme made Russia the world's only link with the ISS and its alternating multinational crew.
Russia has experienced five launch failures in the past nine months but has not had any recent problems with Soyuz rocket missions to the ISS.
In December, Moscow suffered one its most embarrassing space failures in recent times when three navigation satellites for the new Russian Glonass system crashed into the ocean off Hawaii instead of reaching orbit.
Officials later admitted that a simple fuel miscalculation was to blame. In February, Russia then put its new Geo-IK-2 military satellite into the wrong orbit, rendering it useless for defence purposes.
And only last week, Russia lost its new Express-AM4 digital television, telephone and Internet satellite after a failed launch from Baikonur.
© 2011 AFP