NASA and the Roscosmos space agency are reporting that the Russian Progress spacecraft that blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome with cargo for the International Space Station on Tuesday morning has lost communications with ground control.
An engine failure Progress flight in 2011 led to loss of communication, and the spacecraft eventually crashed into Siberia in a major setback for the Russian space program.
Of note, at least three Progress cargo spaceships are launched a year. The cargo craft deliver necessities like oxygen, fuel and food to the ISS. The spacecraft then are jettisoned from the ISS to fall back into the Pacific Ocean.
Details on Russian Progress spacecraft glitch
NASA reported that Russia’s unmanned Progress 59 spacecraft launched on a Soyuz rocket at 3:09 a.m. EDT Tuesday from Baikonur Cosmodrome in central Kazakhstan. Commentators noted it seemed like routine launch until the cargo craft separated from the rocket. It could be visually confirmed that the solar arrays deployed on schedule, but some of the navigational antennas on the Progress capsule apparently did not deploy properly.
Russian flight controllers have not been able to uplink commands to Progress, and so it is possible there are problems with the propulsion system as well.
Progress is filled with 6,000 lbs of food, fuel and other supplies, and was supposed to arrive at the orbiting space lab just six hours after liftoff on Tuesday. But the antenna issue is going to move the docking attempt back by 48 hours, to 5:03 a.m. EDT on Thursday, April 30th.
According to NASA commentators, this switch from the fast-track route to the ISS to a two-day trip requiring 34 orbits is “part of the nominal backup plan for all Soyuz and Progress vehicles” and gives flight controllers a chance to troubleshoot the issues. In specific, the extra couple of days would be used for “troubleshooting of rendezvous antenna deployment” which is a requirement for docking to the space station.