The six crew members aboard the International Space Station will have to go without a scheduled delivery of food, supplies and fuel. NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos confirmed Wednesday that the Progress M-27M spacecraft, which spun out of control yesterday after reaching orbit, would not be docking with the station. The faulty vehicle is now in a decaying low-Earth orbit and doomed to atmospheric reentry.
“I think there was some kind of emergency that happened while the spacecraft was separating from the rocket,” said Igor Komarov, the head of Roscosmos, speaking through an interpreter. A later statement said the problem began 1.5 seconds before Progress was due to separate from the third stage of its Soyuz rocket, when flight controllers lost telemetry from the launch vehicle.
Live video from Progress showed it spinning in Earth orbit. Komarov said the spacecraft was completing a full revolution every four or five seconds.
Exactly what happened is still unclear, but there are now multiple objects in low-Earth orbit associated with the spacecraft. As of Wednesday morning, www.space-track.org put the count at 16, including Progress and third stage of the rocket.
Assuming the first listed TLE, 15024A, is Progress, plugging the values into a tracking calculator results in an apogee of 255.5 kilometers and a perigee of 186 kilometers. This is roughly half the altitude of the International Space Station. Progress’s orbit will continue to drop due to atmospheric drag until it is destroyed during reentry.
As for the astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station, NASA says the crew is adequately stocked until after the next resupply flight. That flight is a SpaceX Dragon, currently scheduled for June.