A Russian space ship delivering supplies to the International Space Station is reportedly spinning out of control in orbit due to a post-launch technical failure.
The Progress 59 vehicle carrying 2,722kg of fuel, water, food and scientific experiments took off from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan atop a Soyuz rocket on Tuesday morning. Minutes later, it reached its preliminary orbit where it separated from the launcher and deployed its solar panels. However, when Russian space controllers attempted to establish contact with the space ship, they were unable to do so.
As a result they had to change plans for the capsule to reach the orbital outpost in six hours, a procedure known as the short rendezvous. They now hope to regain control over the capsule for the standard three-day arrival.
However, Nasa said early this morning that the Russians were still struggling to establish contact with the spacecraft.
If the attempts fail, the capsule won’t be able to perform a series of manoeuvres needed for the rendezvous and would eventually be drawn back towards the Earth and burn in the atmosphere.
The failure to salvage the capsule would mean a loss of a second cargo ship bound for the ISS in only six months.
In October last year, American private space freighter Cygnus was destroyed in a rocket explosion during launch.
Nasa said the possible loss of the Progress spacecraft won’t put the six-strong crew on the ISS at risk as the astronauts have enough supplies for at least four months. During that period, several other capsules including SpaceX’s Dragon, another Progress and Japanese HTV are scheduled for their regular delivery missions.
According to Russian Space Web, images from cameras aboard the rocket beamed down to Earth during the ascent showed a smooth and stable flight. The website cited Russian news agency Interfax quoting an unnamed source who claimed problems during the capsule’s separation from the third stage of the launcher caused the situation.
Data from North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) showed the capsule may be up to 70km off from its target orbit.