Last week I posted a picture of the fiery re-entry of a Progress re-supply ship as seen by Mike Fossum on board the space station. It was one of several pictures he took, and via Universe Today is a video of the descent of the spacecraft!
Holy wow! You can see the trail of plasma starting to blow off the main spacecraft just as the video begins, and if you look carefully you can see bigger chunks of material falling off the main body – just like in the big picture I posted earlier (seen below).
While this may seem like a waste of a spacecraft, in fact this serves a very useful purpose: it gets rid of trash and other cast-offs by the astronauts on the International Space Station. By collecting it and getting rid of it all at once they don’t have to worry about creating more space debris which is a hazard to other satellites, or even the ISS itself – a very real concern.
Moreover, Progresses are not re-usable, so there’s no sense in trying to land them again. Also, it takes less fuel to slow a Progress spacecraft enough to let it burn up in our atmosphere than it would to slow it down enough to land it safely anyway. That means even more savings in getting payloads to space.
So all in all it makes sense to simply use them as a way to keep the ISS tidy. It may be a bit ignominious, but wow, what a way to go!