back to article Malfunctioning Russian supply podule EXPLODES above Pacific

The latest Russian Progress supply podule destined for the International Space Station has burned up over the Pacific, the Roscosmos space agency has confirmed. Progress M-27M, to give it its full title, ceased to exist at 5.04 Moscow standard time (just after 3am British time) as it entered the atmosphere over the central …

  1. NoneSuch Silver badge

    We need a space elevator for constant raising of supplies to space. Even a few kilos at a time would be worth it long term.

    1. Bronek Kozicki

      ... until it's hit by a piece of flying debris and severed. Which could cause a really big trouble down on Earth.

      1. Remy Redert

        It actually wouldn't. The bottom couple of kilometers would come down, the rest would burn up on reentry or go shooting out into deep space, depending on where it gets cut. Everything above the cut goes zipping off into deep space, everything below falls back into the atmosphere. Everything above ~50km is going to end up going fast enough to burn up on in the atmosphere.

        You'd need to put the tether at the equator, so you'd probably attach it to a large floating platform. Attach some thrusters and you've got some rudimentary maneuverability to avoid collisions in the first place.

        A severed orbital elevator would be very expensive, but it's not going to cause any serious damage back on Earth.

        1. mr.K


          What a fascinating thing to contemplate. Yes, everything above will go outwards, but I am not sure that it will go off into deep space, not even if you cut it above center of the mass (geo orbit). Essentially you will have an object in orbit where you have removed some of the mass and shifted the center of mass considerably in the non-uniform gravity field, but the velocity is unchanged. This will result in a high elliptic orbit, if it is rigid. I don't think it will be rigid. So you will at least for some time have a large whip spinning and yanking, possibly ripping itself apart, in an highly irregular orbit. Which is fine, not much so far out anyway.

          If you sever the bit near the Atmosphere I agree that it will fall down and the bit furthest out will burn up before it hits. Something I would love to see and nobody will be able to compute the outcome of. The wire in front should push the air aside, no? So higher speed, so you might get friction heating to air on the sides instead of compression in front. I dunno, as I said, would love to see it.

          But what if you cut it further out, lets say 10 000 km up. It would fall down, but it's velocity and altitude of the center of mass would indicate that it should be able to enter an elliptic orbit. However it is tied to the ground, but that bit would burn off some distance into the atmosphere. Which means the burnt off end would dangle into the atmosphere and drag the rest down unless it gets yanked out by the rest of the wire gaining higher speed. Which it would, but then it would probably bounce back and frequently touch the atmosphere. So for days or months the remaining wire would whip one of the ends into the atmosphere burning it off in what I will hope be a spectacular manner.

          1. Robert Helpmann??

            Re: @Remy

            Something I would love to see and nobody will be able to compute the outcome of.

            I would think this is exactly the sort of thing anyone contemplating the creation of such a structure would want to work out. As well, they would want to create contingency plans based on the modelling of such a catastrophe.

          2. Adrian Midgley 1

            Re: @Remy: There is extensive

            prior work on this.

        2. Allan George Dyer

          @Remy Redert - So you're saying that, in the event of a cut, there will be ~50km of elevator cable hitting a major transport hub at terminal velocity? OK, not a dinosaur killer, but a hell of a lot more than a broken fingernail, probably dozens of deaths and enough public outcry to shutdown the orbital elevator industry for decades.

          1. The Calvinator


            what's the terminal velocity of something as necessarily light as a space elevator cable? I'm also not getting why people think it would burn up if severed near the bottom. It's stationary with respect to the atmosphere. If severed at low earth orbit shouldn't it fall more or less straight down at terminal velocity?

          2. Adrian Midgley 1

            You think it will come straight down?

            onto the terminal below it, which has been constructed with the knowledge that a break is possible, and that that will cause severe damage?

            It won't come straight down.

            The cable low down is quite light.

            Avoiding putting things in one direction along the plane of the cable - in an area which is likely to be mostly water - doesn't seem a major task.

    2. Anonymous Blowhard

      Space Elevator to LEO?

      Doesn't a "space elevator" need to be anchored to a heavy object in (or at least near) to geostationary orbit? My understanding was that the elevator's centre of gravity needs to be in geostationary orbit, so you need attach it to a heavy weight near geostationary to do this.

      So a space elevator isn't 300km of string, it's 36,000 km of string; a bit more of an engineering challenge.

      1. Elf

        Re: Space Elevator to LEO?

        Yes it does. In deed the stress would likely cause tectonic disruptions across the plate. If The Gods picked up a tree, what would the hill look like with the root structure required to hold a tree through a simple storm?

      2. cray74

        Re: Space Elevator to LEO?

        Doesn't a "space elevator" need to be anchored to a heavy object in (or at least near) to geostationary orbit? My understanding was that the elevator's centre of gravity needs to be in geostationary orbit, so you need attach it to a heavy weight near geostationary to do this.

        Technically, you'd want the center of mass somewhat above geosynchronous orbit. It'd be kept under tension because Earth's rotation would spin it faster than the orbital velocity of that higher altitude. This does at least a couple of useful things: 1) the tension will help damp any vibrations in the tethers; 2) more importantly, when you add more mass on the cable - like payload and passengers - below the center of mass, the elevator won't be inclined to collapse. If the center of mass was exactly at geosynchronous orbit, the first payload to start climbing from the ground would lower the center of mass and start the collapse of the elevator. It wouldn't be an instant thing, but it is a problem, hence the value of raising the center of mass of the elevator above geosynchronous.

        Also, the counterweight needn't be near geosynchronous orbit. Your goal is to get the center of mass at/near geosynchronous, but there are any number of ways to distribute mass to accomplish this. For example, it may be worthwhile to stretch the elevator's cable well beyond geosynchronous. This would allow you to sling payloads off the high end of the tether (at the expense of Earth's rotational velocity, but it's got plenty to spare). Or you could use a big counterweight, but the required mass of the ballast will drop the further away from geosynchronous orbit it is placed. Also, the counterweight would be moving above orbital velocity, so it'd produce a modicum of centripetal "gravity" where Earth would seem to be overhead. That might be handy for a resort, crew quarters, etc.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Space Elevators

      Biggest problem with the Space Elevator, atm, is finding a material that could not only sustain the tension of 22,000 miles of its own mass against the Earth (the Space Elevator needs to be balanced, so it's Cog is in geosynchronous orbit, otherwise it'd be all over the place), but also needs to be producable to both an extremly high quality, and in a vast quantity.

      Afaik, it's been suggested that Carbon nao-tubes just might be able to support their own 'weight', but even then, we don't really have much practical experience with Carbon nano-tubes beyond the micro-scopic, let alone a structure > 22,000 miles long/high.

      It'll happen one day, but probably not in our life-times.

    4. ammabamma

      No space elevator yet, but...

      > We need a space elevator for constant raising of supplies to space.

      Maybe in this interim time, the Yanks can loan the Russians NASA's trampoline to help get supplies into orbit?

    5. Elf

      Agreed. I work in NanoTech. Do you have a solution to build a space elevator that we don't see? Come on down to CNSI and show us how it's done.

      It's a two hour drive to space so we'll just put the materials on the back of a Caravan and lay some elevator as we go, shall we?

  2. wolfetone Silver badge

    I was hoping it'd fall on Conservative Party HQ overnight, but like Labour having Balls this afternoon, it didn't happen.

    1. Bronek Kozicki

      well at least you can enjoy burnt and broken pieces of Labour of Scottish origin. As you perhaps might have enjoyed watching fall Tory in the same place, some 5 years ago :)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "well at least you can enjoy burnt and broken pieces of Labour of Scottish origin. "

        I'm looking forward to the inevitable single party Scottish Soviet Socialists Republic. It's going to be great fun watching them learn the hard way. The Scots will be better off than in the Union, but only after seven years of Grecian decline, and then fourteen years hard slog of recovery.

        Now, I'm torn whether England should offer Scottish Unionists asylum, or whether the reverse should be the case with forcible repatriation of ethnic Scots. I think the latter is fairer (we wouldn't want to starve their economy of skills), and it has the benefit of reducing English unemployment, the only downside is Her Maj would need to find an alternative pad to Balmoral. And in the meanwhile we need to find a way of persuading the Welsh to take their football away.......

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          "the only downside is Her Maj would need to find an alternative pad to Balmoral"

          Independence and becoming a republic are two separate issues, not necessarily related.

        2. dorsetknob

          There are Homes for Sale in Royston Vasey i am sure the locals will welcome lizzy there

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Surrounded by rubbish, toilets backing up, tomorrow's dinner burnt to a crisp.

    The next guy to get his guitar out for a David Bowie singalong is going to be wearing it.

    1. Elmer Phud

      Re: Stressful

      You know, that sounds like the morning after a decent paarty.

    2. DNTP

      Re: Stressful

      Yeah but when you remember to add "IN SPACE" after each of the three problems you mentioned, it becomes awesome unlike the college dorm experience.

  4. Elmer Phud

    We would like to aplogise for the non-delivery of your order.

    It appears the courier company vehicle experienced a major breakdown in a remote area and a replacement vehicle was not available.

    Please accept these vouchers as a gesture of goodwill while we endeavour to fulfil your order.

    1. TitterYeNot

      More likely, a mysterious note would be found just inside the air-lock:-

      We tried to deliver your package today, but unfortunately you were out. To arrange a re-delivery, please call Roscosmos on....

  5. Alister

    The spacecraft would have accelerated to around 16,000mph causing the air in front of it to heat up and destroy the capsule …

    Right, I'm probably showing my complete ignorance here, but why would the capsule accelerate?

    Isn't it entering the atmosphere at the orbital speed it already had?

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Gravity; it's the Law!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "The spacecraft would have accelerated to around 16,000mph causing the air in front of it to heat up and destroy the capsule …"

    Actually, the spacecraft _decelerated_ to around 16,000 mph; its orbital velocity was greater.

    You can look at it as an energy equation - it would have needed an input of energy to accelerate the spacecraft; the kinetic energy lost by the spacecraft, via its deceleration, was transferred to the air, which caused the heating.

    1. Alister

      Re: Erm...

      Ha, I wish you'd posted that five minutes earlier, I wouldn't have felt so stupid...

    2. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Erm...

      It probably accelerated a bit before it hit the atmosphere proper. (losing altitude over the earth, so converting potential energy into kinetic energy) Once it started slamming into the atmosphere it started decelerating again.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Erm...

        A valid point - move inwards and orbital velocity increases, except that to move in you must slow down; accelerate and you'll move out, and then subsequently slow down... Dending upon the timing...

        Let's say we start from achieving a perfectly circular initial insertion orbit... We we add energy (at any point, because we're in a perfectly circular orbit), which means we'll accelerate, which will take us 'out' ('in' & 'out' are a better way to think of gravity wells than 'up' & 'down'), because we've changed the equilibium of V vs. G, to the advantage of V at a tangent to G. The result, with a single input of energy, is that we'll end up in an elipitical orbit. So you'll need at least two burns; one to slow down and therefore move in, which will speed you up, into an elipitical orbit, which means that you'll catch up with a target ahead of you, but which then means you'll need a second burn to speed up, to take you back out, and back in to a circular orbit, ahead of where you would have been if you'd just stayed in orbit (phew).

        The same works for a higher initial orbit but that's a waste of fuel.

        In practice, you're not going to go for a circular initial insertion orbit - no need, what with current computational power available; Newton is good enough for LEO stuff until local RADAR and LASER comms can cope with mm accuracy, so in practice, unless there's a really good reason, then each launch to the ISS is quite a clever bit of choreography.

        Most definitly written whilst under the influence of the icon...

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Erm...

          Slow down at apogee and you speed up at perigee without moving the apogee higher. Slow down at apogee enough to hit the atmosphere at (or before) perigee and you reenter. So you definitely speed up before hitting the atmosphere from apogee.

  7. The last doughnut

    "ceased to exist"

    Made me chuckle and for that Jennifer wins the Friday pint


  8. x 7

    Russians aren't having a lot of luck with their recent rockets.......has someone hacked them?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Their supply of old ones is running out and they are back to experimenting with newely built ones that contain modern tech. Add a bit of economic decline on top and theres no need for hacks.

  9. Kanhef

    At least it wasn't the one with the fancy espresso machine in it.

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