The Russian spacecraft Progress M-27M went down

The Progress M-27M cargo spacecraft blasting off atop a Soyuz 2-1A rocket (Photo courtesy TsENKI. All rights reserved)
The Progress M-27M cargo spacecraft blasting off atop a Soyuz 2-1A rocket (Photo courtesy TsENKI. All rights reserved)

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, announced that the Progress M-27M spacecraft disintegrated in an uncontrolled reentry in the Earth’s atmosphere. Officially, the cargo space has ceased to exist at 02.04 UTC of Friday falling over the Pacific Ocean. It was the inevitable conclusion of a mission that started badly on April 28, 2015, with a serious problem that had caused the impossibility to take control of the Progress to send it to the International Space Station, where it was supposed to bring supplies.

The mission of the Progress M-27M spacecraft, sometimes identified as Progress 59 or Progress 59P by NASA, was supposed to follow what is almost always a routine. The Soyuz rocket it was launched atop is considered very reliable even if the last failed Progress mission, that of the Progress M-12M that was launched on August 24, 2011, it was due to a problem on the rocket’s third stage.

Again in the case of Progress M-27M, there’s a suspect about a rocket problem but official statements are scheduled for next week. For now there are sources close to the Progress mission who stated that the Progress suffered damage caused by a problem externato to the spacecraft.

As for the failure of 2011, the culprit could be the rocket’s third stage. From the beginning, it was speculated that a problem in the third stage’s engine burn because the Progress M-27M spacecraft started tumbling as if it was hit and 44 pieces of debris were later spotted in the vicinity of the space cargo and the Soyuz rocket’s third stage.

The lack of communications with the Progress M-27M spacecraft made it difficult to predict the exact time when it would get disintegrated re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. There was a danger that because of its non-optimal trajectory some pieces might fall to the ground on a populated area. The fact that eventually the space cargo fell on the Pacific Ocean is very positive.

The official investigation of the mishap by Roscosmos is in progress (no pun intended). The estimated loss is the equivalent of about $50 million. The International Space Station crew should still have supplies until September. The emergency concerns the upcoming launches of Soyuz rockets. A Russian military satellite that was supposed to be launched soon might get grounded. Above all, the launch of three new crew members to the International Space Station may be postponed. Roscosmos should provide official news next week.

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