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Russian Progress MS-04 cargo spacecraft lost in launch to space station



The launch of the Progress MS-04 spacecraft on a Soyuz U rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The cargo vehicle was lost 382 seconds into flight on Dec. 1, 2016. (Roscosmos)
December 1, 2016

– A Russian cargo spacecraft was lost Thursday (Dec. 1) during its launch to deliver food, fuel, air and supplies to the International Space Station.

Roscosmos, Russia's federal space corporation, stated on its website that "data reception ended" 382 seconds after its Progress MS-04 uncrewed spacecraft lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

"The telemetry with the cargo vehicle Progress MS-04 has been lost after the Soyuz-U launch vehicle liftoff," reported agency officials. "According to preliminary information, the contingency [leading to the loss of the vehicle] took place at an altitude of 190 kilometers [120 miles] over a remote and unpopulated mountainous area of the Tyva Republic."

"Most of the cargo spacecraft fragments burned [up] in the dense atmosphere," the report said. Hours after the launch failure, Russian media said that debris had been located in a heavily wooded area but local weather conditions were limiting access to the crash site.


Click to enlarge and view video in a new pop-up window. (NASA)

A state commission has been convened to investigate the loss. Both Roscosmos and NASA confirmed in statements that the failure would not impact the operation of the space station or the safety of its crew.

Expedition 50 commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA was informed of the situation by flight controllers at the Mission Control Center in Houston.

"I have some not so great news," astronaut Jessica Meir, serving as capcom, radioed to the station. "Basically, what we saw were indications of the third stage sep [separation] occurring a few minutes early, and we have not had any communications with the Progress at all. So the Russians are, of course, looking into this. We'll inform you when we get more status [from] them."

"Okay, thanks Houston for the words," replied Kimbrough. "Please keep us updated whenever you hear something."

"The Russians have sent the Progress team home at this point and have formed a state commission," said Meir.

The Progress MS-04 launch began normally, with the liftoff of the Soyuz U rocket from Site 1/5, "Gagarin's Start," at 8:51:52 a.m. CST (1451 GMT; 8:51 p.m. local time). Flight controllers in Moscow reported seeing no problems during the first six and a half minutes of the launch, through the separations of the first and second stages and ignition of the third stage.

"The [Soyuz U] flight was normal until 382 seconds. After 382 seconds of flight, the reception [of] Progress MS-04 telemetry data was stopped. Radar stations did not detect the cargo vehicle Progress MS-04 on the calculated orbit," Roscosmos reported on its website.

At the point when the telemetry was lost, at about T-plus 6 minutes and 22 seconds, the Progress was still more than two minutes before it was expected to enter orbit.


The Progress MS-04 spacecraft is seen being prepared for launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (RSC Energia)

The MS-04 spacecraft had been loaded with 5,383 pounds (2,442 kg) of cargo bound for the space station, including 1,565 pounds (710 kg) of propellant for the Zvezda service module's two engines, 926 pounds (420 kgs) of water, 114 pounds (52 kg) of oxygen and 2,777 pounds (1,260 kg) of supplies.

According to Roscosmos, the vehicle's payload included 694 pounds (315 kg) of food for the Expedition 50/51 crew; 253 pounds (115 kg) of medical equipment and personal hygiene gear; 183 pounds (83 kg) of supplies for the toilet and waste collection in the station's Russian segment; and 147 pounds (67 kg) of hardware for the space station's air purification system.

The Progress was also packed with 191 pounds (87 kg) of environmental control system and water recycling supplies for NASA, as well as experiments, photography equipment and an upgraded Russian Orlan spacesuit that was to be tested during spacewalks beginning next year.

Progress MS-04 was the 65th Russian cargo spacecraft to be launched to supply the International Space Station and the third to fly this year, after two missions to the outpost. It was the fourth vehicle as part of Russia's newly-upgraded line of Progress freighters introduced in December 2015.

It was only the third Progress in 38 years not to reach its destination, following the losses of the Progress M-12M in 2011 and Progress M-27M in 2015.

The space station was resupplied most recently by a U.S. commercial Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft in October. An H-II Transfer Vehicle, the HTV-6 Kounotori, from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is set to launch on Dec. 9 with more supplies for the space station.

"Spaceflight is hard, sorry to hear the news Roscosmos," wrote European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet on Twitter. "We are fine up here and will function fine until the next supply spacecraft arrives."


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