An uncrewed cargo ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) might now be wreckage at the bottom of the sea.
On Thursday morning, Roscosmos — Russia’s space agency — launched an expendable Progress module crammed with 5,383 lbs of food, water, medical equipment, toiletries, and other supplies toward the International Space Station (ISS). It was riding a Soyuz rocket launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome site in Kazakhstan.
However, a little more than 6 minutes and 30 seconds into its roughly 9-minute flight, the Progress ship stopped communicating. That was more than 2 minutes before it was supposed to enter orbit, according to Spaceflight Now.
“After the launch of the Soyuz-U launch vehicle along with the Progress MS-04 cargo spacecraft, telemetry connection was lost on the 383th second of flight,” read a tweet from Roscomos, according to a translation by Russia’s state-controlled news agency, RT.com.
After that point, the Progress should have separated from the third and final upper stage of the Soyuz rocket.
TASS, a news agency formed during the Soviet Union and also controlled by Russia, cited an unnamed source in one of its stories about the incident. The source, who allegedly works in the space rocket industry, said the Progress module has probably already “crashed in China or the Pacific Ocean” because the problem occurred before the spacecraft finally separated from its rocket.
However, since communication was lost with the vehicle, it’s impossible to confirm at this point.
It’s quite a hiccup for activity aboard the ISS, but in a post for NASA’s Space Station blog, writer Mark Garcia said “astronauts and the Russian cosmonauts are safe aboard the station,” and that “[c]onsumables aboard the station are at good levels.”
Soyuz rockets also launch astronauts and cosmonauts into space.
Companies like SpaceX, Boeing, and Orbital ATK are developing alternative means of getting people to the ISS, since the Soyuz system is currently the only way to get to the space station.
Until then, NASA will continue to pay Russia up to $81 million per astronaut, absent something like SpaceX’s Dragon crew module atop a Falcon 9 rocket (which recently suffered an explosive failure during a launchpad test).
We’ll update this story as soon as we hear more.
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