Russian space cargo ship spins out of control after launch

The Progress 59 Russian space cargo ship tumbles out of control after launch.

KOROLYOV, RUSSIA (APRIL 28, 2015) (NASA TV) – A Russian cargo ship tumbled out of control shortly after launch on Tuesday (April 28), threatening more than 3 tons (2,722 kg) of fuel, water, food and supplies intended for the International Space Station, NASA said.

The Progress 59 freighter blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:09 a.m. EDT (0709 GMT). Minutes later, the freighter reached its preliminary orbit and deployed a pair of solar panels. But ground control teams then lost contact with the ship, unable to confirm if its communications system was working or if it was ready for a series of steering burns to reach the orbital outpost, which flies about 250 miles (418 km) above Earth.

NASA said the Progress was spinning.

The ship was originally scheduled to rendezvous with the station six hours after launch, and Russian flight controllers set their sights on a backup opportunity on Thursday (April 30). Efforts to contact the freighter, however, have been unsuccessful.

Russia were to try again at 8:50 p.m. EDT on Tuesday/0050 GMT to contact the ship. If it cannot be maneuvered, at some point it will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and incinerate. If that happens, it would be the second station cargo ship lost in the past six months.

A U.S. Cygnus freighter, owned and operated by Orbital ATK, was destroyed in a launch accident in October.

Progress carries 6,104 pounds (2,769 kg) of cargo, including 1,940 pounds (880 kg) of fuel, 926 pounds (420 kg) of water, 110 pounds (50 kg) of oxygen and 3,128 pounds (1,419 kg) of food, clothing, spare parts, experiment hardware and other supplies.

There is nothing aboard Progress that is critical for U.S. operations of the station, NASA said. The item in shortest supply is food, NASA program manager Mike Suffredini wrote in an email.

The station, which is staffed by rotating crews of six astronauts and cosmonauts, currently has enough food for more than four months, he said, adding that several other vehicles, including a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship, another Progress capsule and a Japanese HTV freighter, are all due to launch over the next several months.

The station has enough fuel to last more than a year, Suffredini added.

The station, a $100 billion project of 15 nations, is a laboratory as big as a five-bedroom house that hosts a wide array of science experiments and technology research.