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article imageRussian spacecraft unresponsive — 'spinning out of control'

By Karen Graham     Apr 28, 2015 in Science
A Russian cargo ship launched on Tuesday is now spinning out of control after ground crews lost contact with it shortly after launch, jeopardizing 2.7 tons of fuel, food and supplies intended for the International Space Station.
The Progress 59 freighter blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:09 a.m. ET, and just a few minutes later reached orbit and deployed its pair of solar panels. It was then that ground control crews lost contact with the cargo ship, unable to confirm if the communications system was working.
Now, NASA is saying numerous problems have resulted in what may end up being a lost vehicle because it is now spinning wildly in orbit. The ship was originally supposed to have a fast rendezvous time with the International Space Station (ISS) of only six hours.
Russian controllers have been unable to confirm the deployment of the spacecraft's navigational antennas. With no communications with the spacecraft, it will be difficult to determine when and if it will be ready for some controlled steering burns to reach the orbit ISS is flying in at 418 km (250 miles) above the Earth.
Russia's ground control will try again at 8:50 p.m. ET on Tuesday/0050 GMT to contact the spacecraft. If contact is not possible, at some point it will reenter the Earth's atmosphere and burn up, making it the second time within six months that a resupply craft has been lost. In October 2014, an Orbital ATK resupply ship, the Cygnus Freighter was destroyed during launch.
A Russian Soyuz-2-1A rocket was used for only the second time to launch the resupply vehicle. The 2-1 version of the world-famous rocket first flew in November 2004, and is the intended replacement for all the Soyuz and Molniya rockets then in service.
According to NASA, once orbital insertion was made, it would require one of two engine burns on the first orbit of Earth. The requirements to do that were already in the computer aboard Progress. If everything had gone according to plan, the second engine burn would have been initiated by ground control.
This would have allowed the actual orbital parameters to be up-linked from a Russian Ground Site (RGS). Then the rocket would have been able to make eight additional burns within the five hours before reaching the ISS.
More about International Space Station, resupply vehicle, lost contact, contact attempt tonight, Cygnus freighter
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