Roscosmos has reported that the stricken M-27M Progress resupply vessel reentered the Earth’s atmosphere overnight. The statement, which is on the agency’s website (in Russian), says that the craft “ceased to exist over the central Pacific Ocean, and that the results of an investigation will be presented no later than May 13th. Further reports in the Russian news agency TASS place the area of reentry at 900 kilometers west of the Marquesas Islands.
The freighter, which NASA refers to in its own ISS numbering system as 59, or more formally ISS-59P, was fatally damaged in a still unexplained launch accident on April 28th. Initially reported as merely a problem with two antennas failing to deploy on schedule, it soon became obvious that something much more serious had transpired. Anatoly Zak reports on Russianspaceweb.com that some sources indicate the Soyuz booster’s 3rd stage may have exploded around the time of stage separation, damaging the freighter’s fuel pressurization system.
Given the mystery surrounding the event, May 13 may be an overly optimistic date for determining the actual cause, but with ISS more than a little dependent on the Progress vessels for certain items, namely fuel for station re-boost, a timely return to service is important, although there is no immediate crisis. Russia is now looking at reshuffling its planned Progress flight schedule, and not surprisingly, TASS is reporting that the next crew launch, that of Soyuz TMA-17M booster has been postponed from May 26 to June 11. The next American supply mission, the NASA/SpaceX CRS-7 mission is scheduled for June 19th.
For what its worth, here is a statement by the USAF Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC):
5/7/2015 – VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — U.S. Strategic Command’s (USSTRATCOM) Joint Functional Component Command for Space (JFCC Space), through the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC), confirmed at 8:34 p.m. PDT (11:34 p.m. EDT) that the Progress M-27M cargo transport spacecraft reentered the Earth’s atmosphere and over the Pacific Ocean.
“Our mission, which we remain focused on, is to monitor space and the tens of thousands of pieces of debris that congest it, while at the same time working with our government, international and industry partners to increase space situational awareness,” said Lt. Gen. Jay Raymond, JFCC Space and 14th Air Force (Air Forces Strategic) commander. “By tracking and listing these objects and making that information available, we enable spaceflight safety and increase transparency in the space domain.”
The JSpOC used the Space Surveillance Network sensors and their orbital analysis system to confirm Progress’ reentry, and to refine its prediction and ultimately provide more fidelity as the reentry time approached. This information is listed in USSTRATCOM’s Satellite Catalog and the publicly-available website www.space-track.org. The JSpOC also confirmed reentry through coordination with counterparts in Russia, Europe and other nations.
The JSpOC does not predict or track what happens after decay and reentry occurs, such as where on the Earth’s surface debris, if any, lands.
“While predictions become more accurate as the event approaches, there are many factors acting on an object as it decays and reenters the atmosphere, such as how it tumbles and breaks up, variations in the gravitational field of a landmass or ocean, solar radiation pressure and atmospheric drag, that complicate our ability to predict what happens after reentry occurs,” Raymond said.