Liftoff of Progress M-27-M / Image Credit Roscosmos
A flurry of reports in Russia new media indicate that yesterday’s launch of the Progress M-27-M resupply freighter to the International Space Station has gone awry, and perhaps badly so.
Liftoff took place aboard a Soyuz-2.1a booster from the Baikonour Cosmodome in Kazakhstan at 10:09 AM Moscow time (3:09 AM EDT) on Tuesday, for what was originally intended to be an abbreviated six hour trip to the orbiting laboratory.
The first indication that there may have been a problem came from the Russian space agency Roscosmos which said in a brief statement reported by TASS: “There are some problems with the data telemetry. They are being worked on by Roscosmos specialists.” As a result of the difficulties, Roscosmos stated that it would now revert to a more traditional two day rendezvous.
Apparently there was much more to the story.
The problems were initially attributed to difficulties deploying two of five antennas used by the spaceship’s Kurs docking system, which is ordinarily done by radio command once the craft enters its designed orbit. By transitioning to the longer flight, technicians would presumably have has time to to diagnose and correct the problems. That soon changed, with the emergence of new reports suggesting that a problem with the Soyuz booster caused the Progress freighter to be placed into an orbit some 70 kilometers lower than it should have been.
What followed three hours later was even more concerning. An unnamed source described as being within the Russian space industry has told TASS:
“The spacecraft is currently very quickly and uncontrollably turning on its axis, one turn in just several seconds. The Mission Control Centre’s commands are not reaching the spacecraft and telemetric data are also transmitted erratically,” the source said. “The docking, originally planned for April 30, has been postponed indefinitely,” he said.”
The Progress vessel is carrying 2.5 tons of supplies including 420 kg of water, 50 kg of oxygen and 500 kg of fuel, as well as experiments, assorted food items, and as a replica “Victory Banner” commemorating the Soviet Union’s triumph of Nazi Germany in World War II, which Russians refer to as “The Great Patriotic War.”
If control is not regained, the M-27-M flight will come as yet another in a long line of problems for the Russian space program, the correcting of which have been a particular point of interest for President Vladimir Putin.
Until resolved, it would also leave the SpaceX Dragon and a single Japanese HTV as the sole means of ISS supply in what has at times been a five vehicle fleet.
This page will be updated as the story unfolds:
A series of overnight attempts by ground control to re-establish communications with the errant spacecraft have all failed, substantially raising the odds that the Progress freighter will make an uncontrolled re-entry sometime in the coming days.
At the same time, new reports by the Russian news agency TASS state that the Soyuz booster’s third stage “overworked,” presumably meaning that it burned longer than planned. TASS is also reporting that the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force base has “detected 44 debris of unknown origin in orbit close to Russia’s Progress space ship.”