An uncrewed Russian spacecraft meant to resupply the International Space Station appears to have suffered a malfunction shortly after launch today.
Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, tweeted that it lost communication with the spacecraft 383 seconds into the flight.
— ????????? (@roscosmos) December 1, 2016
The third stage of the rocket, which helps propel the cargo ship to its final orbit, reportedly shut down “earlier than planned” according to NASA’s live broadcast of the mission…
ProgressMS04: NASA says 3rd stage may have shut down “earlier than planned;” telemetry is “not clear” as to whether solar arrays fully out
— William Harwood (@cbs_spacenews) December 1, 2016
As The Verge reports, Roscosmos has not said whether the spacecraft’s power-generating solar arrays have successfully deployed, or whether the ship was able to make it into its preliminary orbit. The spacecraft could already be headed back towards Earth if a malfunction occurred while the spacecraft was still executing its third stage burn.
The ship is carrying more than 5,300 pounds (2,400 kilograms) of cargo, including food, water, propellant, and other supplies.
NASA schedules cargo flights in such a way that a loss of one or two missions can’t directly endanger the crew aboard the space station. The next ISS resupply mission is supposed to take place sometime in early 2017. Roscosmos is one of three entities capable of resupplying the ISS. Two private spaceflight companies — SpaceX and Orbital ATK — have contracts with NASA that allow them to send cargo to the space station. A third company will join them in 2019.
This is the second time in the last two years that Russia’s space agency has had trouble with an ISS resupply mission. In April of 2015, Roscosmos lost control of its cargo spacecraft during the Progress 59 mission. That ship spun wildly out of control and eventually burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
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