In the early hours of Wednesday, Aug 25, an unmanned Progress rocket crashed in southern Choysky District in northern Altai Republic, about half the distance between Gorno-Altaisk and the western tip of Lake Teletskoye. Originally destined for the International Space Station, the rocket mysteriously failed about 5 minutes after launch. In addition to 800 kg of toxic rocket fuel, it was also carrying food, gear, and research supplies when it launched from Baikonur in eastern Kazakhstan.
As of Friday evening in Altai, searchers had not yet pinpointed the exact crash site or possible debris sites in this forested area, although government agencies have begun water sampling to test for fuel contamination in nearby rivers and lakes in the area. Authorities are searching in mountainous forest east of Karakoksha village in Choysky District, but rain and rough terrain adding to the challenge.
There is no reliable information about any possible human impacts as of yet. It may be necessary to transport water and soil samples as far away as Novosibirsk (8 hrs by car) to ensure accuracy.
The indigenous Tubalar people have traditionally lived in this area of the Republic, many of whom subsist and make a humble living by gathering non-timber forest products such as medicinal and other edible plants and berries and Siberian pine nuts, as well as subsistence hunting and fishing. Toxic fuel contamination of their traditional lands and food sources is definitely a concern, but the real impacts are yet to be known and may never be without a concerted and sincere effort by Russian federal and Republic officials.
Altai Republic has been a fallout zone for booster rockets of space launches from Baikonur for over 40 years. There are three official zones in the Republic, covering 23,500 sq. km and comprising 25% of the Republic’s territory and centered in parts of Choysky, Ust’-Kan, Turochak, and Ulagan Districts. The Republic has a formal agreement signed in 2008 with the Russian Space Agency and Baikonur that provides for financial compensation for damage caused by fallout events, and when the space junk falls in an inhabited area, it is collected and taken away. Local officials and residents within these fallout zones often report booster rocket and other waste falling outside of official zones, information that is disputed by officials from RosKosmos and Baikonur.
Here is a map created by The Altai Project to show some of the confirmed debris crash sites in Altai, as well as the location of Baikonur in Kazakhstan. Please contact us if you want more detailed information about this issue.
On September 15 searchers finally found a few pieces of the Progress rocket near the southern end of Lake Teletskoye near Balykchi. The search is ongoing and rumors abound about a cover-up conspiracy.
- Additional news sources
http://altapress.ru/topic/1569/ (Russian) View Baikonur’s launch schedule
- A map showing potential launch routes and corresponding fallout zones for vehicles launched from Baikonur