MAYHEM in ORBIT: Russian cargo pod spins OUT OF CONTROL

Podule goes TITSUP: Total Inability To Sustain Usual Propulsion

Video Russian space boffins have lost control of a Progress cargo capsule which had been due to deliver 6,000lb of supplies to the International Space Station. The crazy podule is spinning and tumbling in orbit above the Earth as controllers try to establish contact with it.

Youtube video

The Progress 59 space-mule lifted off flawlessly from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 0309 EDT (0109 local time) today, and was scheduled to rendezvous with the ISS on Thursday. But shortly after takeoff the spacecraft's telemetry started failing, and the cargo pod is now not accepting navigation commands.

"The Russian flight control team attempted to command the vehicle over four orbits flying over Russian ground sites with no success," said NASA in a blog post.

"The next series of ground station passes is expected to resume late Tuesday evening. Teams are standing down on the Thursday docking attempt while Russian teams continue to analyze data and develop a troubleshooting plan going forward."

The blunder appear to stem from improperly deployed navigational antennas, and problems with the pressurization of the manifolds in the propulsion system. The Progress capsule is still in a low orbit, and doesn't pose a direct threat to the ISS.

But the failure will worry NASA as this is the second resupply mission to fail in six months. October saw Orbital Science's Antares mission blown up seconds after takeoff, and Tuesday's failure will leave the ISS short of supplies.

NASA maintains enough supplies onboard the ISS to cover the loss of two resupply missions, with more than a little left over as an extra reserve. This latest supply pod contains mostly food and fuel. NASA will be looking to source another fast supply mission to make sure nothing runs out.

That's good news for the competition. SpaceX has a resupply mission scheduled for June 22 and so far the firm has a perfect record in delivery. ESA may also get a look-in with its Automated Transfer Vehicle, which has successfully resupplied the ISS in the past.

In the meantime, the Russians will try and reestablish contact. If they fail the Progress capsule will be allowed to fall back into the planet's atmosphere and burn up with its cargo. It won't kill us all. ®

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