Space Junk From Failed Russian Launch Found in China
Screen capture from the live video of the Proton-M rocket launching from Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan on Friday.
This was the view from the International Space Station as the European Automated Transfer Vehicle "Albert Einstein" (ATV-4) undocked and began five days of orbital maneuvers before reentry on Nov. 2. The unmanned cargo vehicle had been docked to the space station for five months after delivering seven tons of food, supplies and equipment to the orbiting outpost in June. Filled with trash and unwanted equipment, the ATV became a high-tech waste disposal system on Oct. 28 as it began its reentry procedure. These are some of the spectacular views as seen by space station astronauts as the ATV slammed into the Earth's atmosphere.
The descending ATV-4 slowly approaching its reentry demise against the backdrop of Earth -- two commercial jetliners and their contrails can be seen.
From the space station astronauts perspective, the ATV can be seen interacting with the Earth's atmosphere some 62 miles (100 kilometers) directly below. Pieces of the ATV are ripped away by extreme stresses and begin to burn up.
The main mass of the ATV burns brightly during reentry over an unpopulated region of the Pacific Ocean on Nov. 2.
Resembling a meteor, the main mass of the ATV succumbs to the extreme heating and dynamic stresses as it tumbles through the atmosphere.
The remaining mass of the ATV breaks up, scattering pieces as the spacecraft lights up the skies over the Pacfic Ocean.
The old adage “what goes up must come down” isn’t always true for space launches — usually we like to keep things “up” for an indefinite amount of time. But after a failed rocket launch, space hardware usually has a premature trip back to Earth, sometimes surviving fiery reentry.
On Friday, a Russian Proton-M rocket carrying a communications satellite failed only minutes after launch, yet another failure in a troubling trend for the nation’s space launch capabilities. On Sunday, Chinese media reported the recovery of space junk that has now been identified as pieces from that failed Proton rocket.
According an AFP report, space debris was found near Qiqihar city in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, located on Russia’s far east border. Investigators associated with the China National Space Administration recovered “parts from a carrier rocket or a satellite” that “appeared to have fallen from the sky on Friday,” said the Chinese Xinhua news agency.
Photographs have been released of a damaged spherical object, which resembles a Composite Overwrap Pressure Vessel (COPV). COPVs are commonly used by spacecraft to store pressurized liquid fuel and are often constructed of steel or titanium and wrapped in Kevlar — the same material used for bulletproof vests. These objects are therefore very tough can can often survive the extreme heating of reentry.
These falling space orbs have, in the past, caused some excitement as to their extraterrestrial origin, but after expert analysis they are quickly identified as space junk.
Friday’s failed Proton rocket launch destroyed a sophisticated $205 million satellite that was destined to become Russia’s most powerful telecommunications satellite, supplying internet access to isolated regions. The Express-AM4P satellite was built by Airbus Group’s Astrium corporation.
Russia has experienced a string of high-profile failures in recent years and this is the sixth incident involving a Proton-M since 2010. The last Proton-M failure destroyed three Russian-made Glonass navigation satellites in July 2013 after the booster veered dramatically out of control seconds after launch and crashed, creating a huge fireball near the launch pad.
A string of failures involving the Proton and Soyuz launch vehicles have prompted an overhaul in the Russian space agency, culminating in the replacement of Roscosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin in October 2013.