Wednesday 13 November 2019

Spinning spacecraft 'a total loss'

American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are interviewed at the International Space Station (Nasa via AP)
American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are interviewed at the International Space Station (Nasa via AP)

A Russian supply capsule that went into an uncontrollable spin after launch has been declared a total loss, but astronauts at the International Space Station said they will get by without the delivery of fresh food, water, clothes and equipment.

"We should be OK," Nasa astronaut Scott Kelly assured the Associated Press. "I think we're going to be in good shape."

Mr Kelly and Russian Mikhail Kornienko, the space station's one-year crew members, told the AP during an interview that flight controllers had given up trying to command the cargo carrier. Nasa and the Russian Space Agency later confirmed the news.

The unmanned Progress vessel, bearing three tons of goods, began tumbling when it reached orbit yesterday, following launch from Kazakhstan.

Igor Komarov, the head of Russia's space agency Roscosmos, cited a lack of pressure in the main block of the propulsion system in the decision to abort the mission.

Mr Kelly said the craft will fall out of orbit and re-enter the atmosphere. Russian reports indicated a re-entry possibly next week.

The capsule is expected to burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere, as is the case for all Progress carriers, once they have delivered their shipments and are filled with rubbish.

"The programme plans for these kinds of things to happen. They're very unfortunate when they do," said Mr Kelly, one month into a year-long mission, which will be a record for Nasa.

He added: "The important thing is hardware can be replaced."

Mr Kornienko called it "a big concern". But he expressed "100% confidence" that operations will continue as planned until the next shipment arrives.

Supplying the space station is mostly handled by the United States and Russia. Nasa hired SpaceX and Orbital Sciences to provide regular shipments once the shuttle programme ended in 2011.

SpaceX plans to send up a load of supplies in June; its most recent shipment arrived less than two weeks ago.

This is the second cargo ship lost in the past half year.

In October, Orbital Sciences suffered a launch explosion in Virginia that destroyed a station supply ship.

Nasa officials want a six-month supply of food on the space station, but because of the Orbital Sciences accident the reserves are down a month or so. The Japanese Space Agency also periodically sends up cargo; it is aiming for a summer shipment,

Six people currently live at the space station: two Americans, one Italian and three Russians.

Just days before yesterday's launch, Roscosmos announced that the cargo ship held a copy of the Banner of Victory, the red flag with the Soviet hammer and sickle that was raised over the Reichstag in Berlin by victorious Soviet soldiers in 1945. It is a highly revered symbol of the victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War.

But today the agency said the banner was already on the space station, arriving with Mr Kelly and Mr Kornienko in March.

Russia is planning extensive celebrations for the 70th anniversary of Victory Day on May 9.

PA Media

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