Progress 59 spacecraft burns up over Pacific
The unmanned Progress 59 (M-27M) cargo spacecraft has burned up somewhere over the central Pacific ocean. According to the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), the freighter reentered the Earth’s atmosphere at 10:04 pm EDT. Launched 10 days ago, it failed to reach the International Space Station (ISS) due to a malfunction that prevented mission control from establishing contact shortly after launch.
On Thursday evening, Roscosmos tweeted: "TGK 'Progress M-27M' ceased to exist at 5:04 MSK over the central part of the Pacific Ocean." This was later confirmed by the US Air Force tracking at 8:34 pm PDT.
Because Progress was making an uncontrolled reentry, it wasn't possible to precisely predict when or where it would burn up, and there were concerns that there was a remote chance that some fragments of the spacecraft might survive reentry. However, the craft's breaking up over the Pacific means that any surviving fragments landed in water.
Launched on April 28 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Progress 59 was on a routine resupply mission to the ISS when it suffered a malfunction that prevented the deployment of Kurs rendezvous and other navigational antennas. As the Russian flight controllers tried to establish contact without success, the spacecraft began to rotate, then to tumble out of control. On April 29, Roscosmos called off the rescue effort and the craft began to lose altitude due to orbital decay. Meanwhile, the US Air Force reported tracking 44 pieces of debris along Progress' orbit, indicating that the spacecraft had begun to break up even before re-entry.
The destruction of Progress 59 also means the loss of over 6,000 lb (2,722 kg) of food, fuel, and other items. According to NASA, both the Russian and United States Operating Segment (USOS) of the ISS are still operating normally, and the space station is routinely provided with a surplus of supplies so the crew have enough until the launch of the SpaceX CRS-7 mission in June. However, with the explosion of the Antares booster last year that destroyed an unmanned Cygnus cargo ship, the ISS could be forced to temporarily reduce the size of future crews until the deficit is made up.
Roscosmos says that an official investigation into the incident is underway and will report by May 13.