A robotic Russian Progress spaceship and its cargo were lost today, minutes after its launch to the International Space Station from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Russia’s Roscosmos space agency reported the failure of the mission’s Soyuz rocket and the fiery re-entry of the Progress craft over mountainous terrain in Russia’s republic of Tuva, in southern Siberia.
“Most of the fragments were burned in the dense layers of the atmosphere,” Roscosmos said, citing preliminary information. That suggests some of the debris fell to the ground, but no injuries were reported.
The uncrewed Progress was carrying more than two and a half tons of food, fuel and supplies for the space station. NASA said the rocket anomaly arose during third-stage separation, which apparently occurred earlier than scheduled. Russian space officials said the craft was operating normally until 383 seconds into the ascent, when it stopped transmitting data.
Roscomos said a commission has been set up to investigate the failure.
— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) December 1, 2016
Both NASA and Roscosmos emphasized that the station’s six-person crew was safe and well supplied, and would face no critical shortages as a result of the Progress loss.
NASA’s Mission Control told space station commander Shane Kimbrough about the setback. “Please keep us updated whenever you hear something,” Kimbrough said.
A Japanese HTV cargo ship is due to be launched to the space station on Dec. 9.
Today’s loss is the latest in a series of ups and downs for space station resupply:
- Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket and its robotic Cygnus cargo ship were blown up just after launch in October 2014, but the Cygnus is now back in action.
- An earlier Progress craft was lost in April 2015 due to a failed separation from its Soyuz rocket.
- A SpaceX Dragon shipment was destroyed in June 2015 when its Falcon 9 rocket went awry. SpaceX returned to flight a year ago, but another Falcon 9 was lost on the pad three months ago, forcing another suspension in flights.
Today, Iridium said it was expecting to have 10 of its next-generation satellites launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Dec. 16. But that schedule is contingent on the Federal Aviation Administration’s approval of SpaceX’s return to flight, following an investigation of the Sept. 1 anomaly.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk said last month that the Falcon 9 anomaly apparently arose when some of the rocket’s liquid-oxygen propellant froze solid and reacted explosively with the carbon composite tank during a launch-pad test. A change in the procedure for loading liquid helium onto the Falcon 9 should head off that problem, he said.