An uncrewed Russian spacecraft meant to resupply the International Space Station has been lost. Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, says that communication with the spacecraft ended 382 seconds into the flight. The third stage of the Soyuz 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.
The Progress MS-04 spacecraft never made it into proper orbit without that full third stage burn. Instead, gravity took hold and it burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere sometime in the hours after the 9:51AM ET launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Reports of explosions and fireballs in the sky of Tuva, Russia around the same time.
The ship was 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. “Our astronauts and the Russian cosmonauts are safe aboard the station,” NASA wrote in a blog post. “Consumables aboard the station are at good levels.”
The next ISS resupply mission is supposed to launch next week, with another one scheduled for early 2017. Roscosmos is one of four entities capable of resupplying the ISS. The Japanese space agency will launch next week’s cargo mission. 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.
The Soyuz rocket, however, is the only rocket that can take people to the ISS right now. SpaceX and Boeing are supposed to start ferrying people to the space station within the next couple of years, but until that happens NASA is reliant on Roscosmos.
Russia has had failures like this before
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. Roscosmos lost a Progress resupply much in similar fashion to today’s mishap back in 2011, when the third stage burn of the same type Soyuz rocket failed. That Progress ship was also lost in the atmosphere.