Space Station Sacrifices Progress Module to Dump Trash into Pacific

After all the excitement about last week’s successful docking of the European ATV “Jules Verne”, it’s time to spare a thought for its Russian predecessor. The Progress 28 module was filled with rubbish and unneeded equipment, quietly severed from its docking bay and steered toward Earth. On Monday at 0850 GMT, the selfless module dropped through the atmosphere, burned and eventually reached the Pacific Ocean, sinking into the satellite graveyard 3000 km east of the New Zealand coast…

On February 5th, a Russian Soyuz rocket launched the Progress 28 cargo ship to the International Space Station (ISS) to ferry supplies to the astronauts in orbit. This mission started a very busy period for space traffic controllers. Soon after Progress 28 was sent on its way, Space Shuttle Atlantis blasted off to take the Columbus module to be installed on the station. Then at the start of this month, ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) sat patiently in an orbital holding pattern until the shuttle undocked and flew back to Earth. Then on April 3rd, the ATV carried out a flawless approach and docking procedure with the ISS.

Watching over all this action on the station was the Progress 28 module attached patiently to the Russian-built Pirs docking compartment. After astronauts had salvaged reusable parts from the Progress module and filled it full of trash, the time came on April 7th to say Spokojnoj Nochi (Russian for “Good Night”) to the ill-fated supply ship to make room for the two Russians and one South Korean to arrive after the Soyuz launch yesterday.

Dropping supply modules into the Pacific may sound unsavoury, but it remains the only viable option to dispose of rubbish and unwanted material when in space. Simply jettisoning it into space cannot be done, there must be a controlled disposal, dumping trash into a used module and blasting it into a re-entry trajectory. Littering Earth orbit is a critical problem, so space agencies are doing the best they can to send potential debris to Earth where most of it can burn up in the atmosphere. Anything left over falls into a predetermined “satellite graveyard” in the worlds largest ocean.


Some interesting objects have been dropped from the station into the atmosphere. To mention the most humorous, in 2006 the Russian crew on board the station stuffed an old spacesuit with rubbish and launched “Ivan Ivanovich” into orbit. Ivan lasted for 216 days and set a lifetime record for ISS space debris. The suit eventually succumbed to gravity and burned up in the atmosphere.

The drop zone for spaceship fragments, which did not burn in dense layers of the atmosphere, was located away from navigation routes, about 3,000 kilometers east of the New Zealand capital city of Wellington.” – Russia’s Federal Space Agency spokesperson Valery Lyndin.

Don’t think the sparkling new ATV is being let off either, in six months this hi-tech vehicle will be stuffed with garbage and thrown to a fiery death above the Pacific. Sad really…

Source:, New Scientist

21 Replies to “Space Station Sacrifices Progress Module to Dump Trash into Pacific”

  1. I agree. Flying garbage to the Sun may have the added issue that it might not get there and end up stuck in orbit around the Sun. Yet another source of debris. As Steve rightly said, the fuel required to send rubbish to the Sun would be damned expensive.

    It is a shame that pieces of orbitals actually crash into Earth, but at least it can be controlled to some extent. Still, not nice to be littering the ocean with burnt bits of metal… perhaps some construction method used in future satellites can be used to make sure the orbital breaks up into small pieces on re-entry. Then the surface area would be incresed, giving the vehicle a better chance of being vaporized… just a thought…

    Cheers, Ian 😉

  2. Maybe once the private/comercial sector gets into space, some company will do salvage and clean up all the debris. Various governments could pay for the clean up, or if the various items have any historical or reusable quality, the salvage company could sell them to higest bidder. We gotta find ways to make money out of going to space.

  3. What about sending the trash to the sun, where it is going to burn up long before it even reaches the surface of the sun.

  4. When we finally have space elevators on Earth, maybe we can collect all that junk and use it as counterweights to use gravitational energy to assist cargo to ascend to orbit. Something goes down, pulling something else up, and the something that goes down can be salvaged and recycled into something new. Maybe that would be a good thing to do with the Hubble Telescope when it finally becomes too old to patch up any more — send it back down to Earth on a space elevator, so that it can be recovered and put in a museum, where it can be given tender, loving care and new generations can see and even touch it, and learn its magnificent work in capturing the heavens for us.

  5. Ummm, keep in mind that would require a source of propulsion, fuel and various other expensive things to launch a vehicle at the sun full of garbage. Much more cost effective to let it burn up in the earths atmosphere than launch it at the sun.

  6. Looks like early days for ISS garbage disposal evolution. They’re out of the “Live with the garbage in the cave” phase and into the “Dump the garbage outside the cave” phase. Perhaps one day they’ll progress to the “Process the garbage” phase we have attained, to some extent, on earth – incinerate it, compact it, shred it, and – ultimately – recycle it in situ?

    Maybe the commercial opportunity, once the debris problem gets so bad that the UN imposes tough penalties on space litterers, will be for someone to set up a garbage recycling plant in orbit that will process the trash for a fee?

  7. Why can’t the junk be taken back to Earth in the payload bay of the Space Suttle? Too heavy?

  8. i think space junk should be brought back to earth to be recycled and then eventually recycled in space when the means come about.

  9. It seems to be a shame that such a nice spacious volume like ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle has to be tossed. We paid a high price to send it into orbit and it I would it expect that exactly like on earth a spare storage room is always welcome. Why not develop a collapasible Kevlar garbage bag to send the trash back to earth and keep the extra room.

  10. I assume when we use the euphemism “garbage”, we are talking about a good percentage of human excrement, are we not?

  11. Bob P mirrors my sentiments almost to the letter! We send all that expensive stuff into space, each pound costing several thousand dollars to get there, and then we just shove it back down the gravity well making it the most expensive garbage we have ever generated. Why couldn’t we send it to a designated holding area for future possible use/recycling? I mean, I can’t imagine that it would cost all that much more to move it a few hundred miles away, or maybe even to a LaGrange point. The expensive, hard work of getting it out of the deepest part of the gravity well has already been done. Spend a little bit more and get it to someplace where it may be retrieved once we can find a use for it.

  12. The money wasted on the ISS and manned space flignt could provide clean water and sanitation for everyone in the world. I wonder how we are viewed by the children of the third world as they watch us burn up multi billion dollar satalites overhead. There are people dying everyday for lack of the simple things we could provide. We pretend to care. We spend our money on oil for our wasteful lives. Our landfills are filling up with our excess. Let’s come to our senses and address the challanges of the third world. Let’s not waste and time, let’s not spend money on anything non-essential until the children of the third world are not dying from water, sanitation, food and AIDS.

  13. Far from being a waste, in the long run the space program is the only way humanity will survive.

    Earth will eventually become uninhabitable, whether due to global warming or the eventual expansion of the sun. If mankind is still stuck on this rock by then, that will be it. And sure, those events may seem a long way off. But we’ll never have more resources than we do now. If we strive for the stars while we have the means, we may never get there.

    So sure, let’s work to improve our lot here on Earth. But there’s no need to sacrifice the space program to achieve that goal. Besides, the budget of the space program is miniscule compared to military budgets. If we’re interested in the survival of the species, it should really be the other way around.

  14. I’m pretty sure the kid that’s dying of AIDS or for the lack of clean drinking water TODAY is really concerned about the sun exploding a few billion years. It’s a matter of priority. People are going to die right now, today, because we are letting it happen. When somebody asks what the space program costs lets make sure we include the lives of those we could have saved if we spent the money on fixing their problems. There are many areas where we could save money and make a huge difference in the world. This is just one.

  15. I agree; there are areas in which groups and organizations can save money and, instead, spend that money on good causes; however, the same can be said of any individual who wastes money on education rather than sending the same funds out to some “charity” which might use a fraction of the cost to somehow help the aids problem…with money??. Anyways, space expeditions are a helpful, productive means of furthering our knowledge of the universe around us, so I’d say that of ALL the different organizations probably wasting money, those devoted to exploration really shouldn’t be the ones guilted.

  16. We can continue to try and clean up the gutters all over the world and spend all of our resources looking at just the dirty spots and trying to make them clean. Or we can lift our eyes up and look into the skies and move forward in an evolutionary way. — Buzz Aldrin

    That pretty much says it ALL for me!


  17. quote: On Monday at 0850 GMT, the selfless module dropped through the atmosphere, burned and eventually reached the Pacific Ocean, sinking into the satellite graveyard 3000 km east of the New Zealand coast…

    Payload did reach the ocean and did not burn up in the atmosphere.

    Cost effective my foot, its like buying a sandwich for $1.00 with ad saying pay only 0.99C and save. In the long run we will pay dearly for our so called cost effective society.

    The modules are already in orbit, sending the trash to the moon or outer space is more cost effective than a launch from the surface and polluting the planet we live in with trash and Rocket exhaust .

  18. Was about to say a similar thing to Brian. We should send the trash to the Moon rather than littering our already polluted Earth. Then at least we might be providing future lunar explorers/colonists with some additional materials. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure….

  19. As I said, if alot of this is really human bio-waste, I’m not sure what future settlers are going to get out of it, except perhaps manure? It’s not doing much bio-harm at the bottom of the ocean, where all the rest of our bio-waste is already going. Most of the rest of it is probably food packaging. Maybe we should separate the bio and non-bio waste, and handle them differently.

  20. I’m not sure I understand but to get garbage to the sun, dont you just need to give it a little push and let gravity do the rest? I thought space had practically no drag? So why should it be so expensive to send it there?

    Just thought I’d ask

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