Russian supply capsule misses rendezvous with ISS, now spinning out of control

Holding three tons of food and other supplies, the unmanned Progress 59 spacecraft has lost touch with ground control and a video shows it now spinning in orbit.

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Michael Franco
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This image shows a previous Russian supply capsule, Progress 47, succesfully docked to the ISS. NASA

The Russian space agency Roscosmos is trying to gain back control of its robotic Progress 59 cargo ship, which is now spinning in orbit after suffering a serious malfunction.

The malfunction occurred just after the Progress 59 space capsule was launched into orbit on Tuesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan by Roscosmos. Carrying "more than three tons of food, fuel, and supplies for the space station crew," according to NASA, the capsule was meant to orbit the Earth four times before docking with the International Space Station to have its cargo offloaded.

Shortly after the capsule separated from the rocket carrying it skyward, however, "an unspecified problem prevented Russian flight controllers from determining whether navigational antennas had deployed and whether fuel system manifolds had pressurized as planned," said NASA in a statement.

Since that time, Russian ground control has attempted to make contact with the unmanned craft several times as it flew over Russian ground sites, but they've all failed. Additionally, according to NASA, flight controllers also confirmed that the craft has now entered a slow spin, a fact that has been confirmed in the NASA video below that shows the view from Progress 59's onboard camera.

The Russian space agency had originally planned to try docking maneuvers again on Thursday, but they've now scrapped that plan indefinitely due to the continued lack of success with communicating with the pod.

Except for a launch malfunction in August 2011 that caused Progress 44 to crash, Progress craft have been successfully servicing the International Space Station since 2000, when people began living and working up there, according to Space.com.

Although the current Progress craft is holding 1,940 pounds of propellant, 110 pounds of oxygen, 926 pounds of water and 3,128 pounds of spare parts, supplies and scientific experiment hardware, NASA says that none of the gear is critical.

"The spacecraft was not carrying any supplies critical for the United States Operating Segment (USOS) of the station. Both the Russian and USOS segments of the station continue to operate normally and are adequately supplied well beyond the next planned resupply flight," the space agency said.

That flight will take place around June 19 when a SpaceX cargo ship will make the journey up to the ISS carrying about 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments. Russia's Progress spacecraft are part of a fleet of robotic spacecraft that periodically send over supplies to the ISS.