Russians Continue to Try to Regain Control of Progress Spacecraft

Russians Continue to Try to Regain Control of Progress Spacecraft

Russian mission controllers continue to try to regain command of the Progress M-27M spacecraft that is spinning uncontrollably in low Earth orbit following a mishap earlier today. An attempt this evening Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) was “fruitless” according to Anatoly Zak at

The robotic cargo ship is loaded with three tons of food, fuel and other supplies for the International Space Station (ISS) crew.

Progress M-27M was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:09 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) this morning (1:09 pm local time at the launch site) and initially all went well.  Something happened — it is not clear what — during or just after third stage separation, however.  Russian flight controllers received conflicting data about the spacecraft’s status, but it became apparent that the spacecraft was spinning.  A video posted on YouTube apparently from a camera aboard the spacecraft, narrated by a NASA announcer, clearly shows its rotation.

Initial plans were to rendezvous and dock with the ISS six hours after launch.  It was quickly apparent that would not be possible and Russian controllers switched to the backup 2-day rendezvous plan, but that was soon rejected as well and they and NASA said the docking was postponed indefinitely.

NASA issued a press release stating that none of the supplies were critical to U.S. operations on the ISS.  Indeed, a SpaceX Dragon is currently attached to ISS having delivered food and other supplies.  Three more Dragons are scheduled for launch this year (June. September and December) and a launch of Japan’s HTV cargo spacecraft is expected in August.  Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft also may be launched by year’s end as the company recovers from an October 2014 launch failure.  Russian Progress spacecraft routinely deliver supplies to ISS four or five times a year; this is the second launch in 2015 and two more are scheduled in August and October, though they may be postponed depending on the cause of today’s problem.

After several initial passes over Russian ground control stations this morning EDT that did not provide sufficient data to diagnose the problem, ground controllers had to wait until the spacecraft once again passed over their ground stations at 8:50 pm EDT this evening to try to reestablish communications.   Anatoly Zak at reported that the attempt was “fruitless” and “The spacecraft likely continued tumbling in space.”

Russia has an impressive record of launching dozens of Progress spacecraft over the decades since the first was sent to resupply the Soviet space station Salyut 6 in 1977.  The Russians designate this mission as Progress M-27M, the 27th of this version of the spacecraft (it has been modified several times over the years).  NASA refers to it as Progress 59 because it is the 59th to resupply the ISS.  A Progress was lost in a launch failure in August 2011, and one collided with the Mir space station in 1997 when a cosmonaut aboard the space station lost control of it while attempting a manual docking, but overall it is a remarkably successful program.

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