File photo of a Russian Progress cargo freighter. Credit: Roscosmos
Story updated with further details[/caption]
The spinning, out-of-control Russian Progress 59 cargo freighter met its undesired early demise when it fell from orbit early Friday, May 8, and was destroyed during the unplanned fiery plummet through the Earth’s atmosphere.
As a result of the loss of the unmanned Progress 59 spacecraft, which was bound for the International Space Station (ISS) on a routine resupply mission, the timelines of upcoming crew rotations and new launches are “under evaluation” – Universe Today learned according to Russian and American space sources.
The doomed Progress freighter “ceased to exist” after it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere 05.04 Moscow time on May 8, 2015 (10:04 p.m. EDT May 7) over the central Pacific Ocean,” according to an official statement from Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency.
The consequences of the failure might cause “postponements of upcoming station crew changes to June” and blastoffs “to July” according to Russian space industry and media sources.
The vessel, also known as Progress M-27M, burned up minutes later and any surviving pieces fell over the Pacific Ocean.
“Debris fell about 900 kilometers west of the Marquesas Islands in the central Pacific Ocean,” a space industry source told the Russian news agency TASS.
“Roscosmos plans to adjust the program of flights to the International Space Station (ISS) due to the recent accident involving the Progress M-27M spacecraft,” according to the TASS rocket and space industry source.
Roscosmos quickly established an investigation board to determine the cause of the Progress failure and any commonalities it might have with manned launches of the Soyuz rocket and capsule, and report back by 13 May.
“The results of investigation of the incident related to “Progress M-27M” will be presented no later than 13 May following the completion of the state commission,” Roscosmos stated.
Russian mission controllers lost control of the Progress 59 spacecraft shortly after its otherwise successful launch to the ISS on April 28 from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan atop a Soyuz-2.1A carrier rocket.
Soon after detaching from the rockets third stage, it began to spin out of control at about 1.8 times per second, as seen in a video transmitted from the doomed ship.
After control could not be reestablished, all hope of docking with the ISS was abandoned by Roscosmos.
NASA officials said that the current ISS Expedition 43 six person crew is in no danger. The station has sufficient supplies to last until at least September, even if no other supplies arrive in the meantime.
“The spacecraft was not carrying any supplies critical for the United States Operating Segment (USOS) of the station, and the break up and reenty of the Progress posed no threat to the ISS crew,” NASA said in a statement.
“Both the Russian and USOS segments of the station continue to operate normally and are adequately supplied well beyond the next planned resupply flight.”
There is a stock of propellants onboard in the Russian segment that can be used for periodically required station reboosts.
According to TASS, “the cause of the accident with the Russian Progress M-27M spacecraft has not been established yet, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told journalists on Friday.”
“Not yet,” he said, answering a question on whether causes of the accident had been established.
Because the cause of Progress failure is not yet clear, the schedules for upcoming crew departures and launches to the ISS via Russian Soyuz rockets and capsules are “under evaluation,” according to sources.
There is a significant potential for a delay in the planned May 13 return to Earth of the three person crew international crew consisting of NASA astronaut and current station commander Terry Virts and flight engineers Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) and Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, who have been aboard the complex since November 2014.
They comprise the current Expedition 43 crew, along with the recently arrived crew of NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka who launched onboard a Soyuz capsule on March 27.
Kelly and Kornienko comprise the first ever “1 Year ISS Crew.”
Virts and his crewmates were due to head back to Earth in their Soyuz capsule on May 13. According to Russian sources, their return trip may be postponed to about June 11 to 13.
“The return from orbit of the expedition which is currently there is suggested to be postponed from May 14 to June,” said a TASS source.
Their three person replacement crew on Expedition 44 were due to blastoff on the next planned manned Soyuz launch on May 26 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. This launch may now be delayed as well, to mid or late July.
“More time will be needed to check already manufactured rockets,” said a source. “A manned Soyuz launch may be made in the last ten days of July.”
“The proposal was forwarded by a Roscosmos working group and has not been approved yet,” reports TASS.
An official announcement by Roscosmos of any ISS schedule changes may come next week since the scheduled return of Virts crew is only days away.
Another potential change is that the launch of the next unmanned Progress 60 (M-28M), could potentially be moved up from August to July, hinging on the outcome of the state commission investigation.
To date flights of the Progress vehicle have been highly reliable. The last failure occurred in 2011, shortly after the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiters in July 2011. The loss of the Progress did cascade into a subsequent crew launch delay later in 2011.
The 7 ton Progress vehicle was loaded with 2.5 tons of supplies for the ISS and the six person Expedition 43 crew. Items included personal mail for the crew, scientific equipment, food, water, oxygen, gear and replaceable parts for the station’s life support systems.
The next SpaceX Falcon 9 launch carrying the CRS-7 Dragon cargo ship on a resupply mission for NASA to the ISS is slated for mid-June. The most recent SpaceX Dragon was launched on the CRS-6 mission on April 14, 2015.
At this time the SpaceX CRS-7 launch remains targeted for liftoff on June 19, 2015.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.