Top Russian space officials convened on Wednesday amid reports that they had lost control of an unmanned resupply spacecraft heading to the International Space Station and that the craft was spinning and falling to Earth.
According to several reports in state media, Russian space agency Roscosmos was planning to abort its mission to regain control of the Progress M-27M cargo freighter, thereby allowing the craft to run out of fuel and descend into the atmosphere.
While Russia’s aerospace industry has suffered some embarrassments in recent years, in particular the failure of the Phobos-Grunt mission to one of the Mars moons in 2012, it has been known for reliable flights between the space station and Earth. The resupply mission was seen as routine.
Russia launched the cargo ship aboard a rocket Tuesday and the problems began almost immediately: communications with the cargo ship failed and it began spinning uncontrollably according to reports and footage from a video camera aboard the ship released by Nasa.
The ship was supposed to dock with the space station just six hours after lift-off, but the docking was delayed as scientists wrestled for control of the spacecraft.
"We are all worried about the fate of our supply ship," Dmitry Rogozin, a Russian deputy prime minister who oversees the defence and space industries, wrote on Twitter.
A media officer for Roscosmos said officials had convened a meeting about the spacecraft and that an official statement would be put out later Wednesday. Asked about reports that the craft’s orbit was disintegrating, she replied: “For now those are just rumours.”
The craft is carrying three tons of supplies, including fuel and food, for the astronauts aboard the space station.
State news media earlier reported Russia had placed aboard the cargo ship a Banner of Victory - a copy of the flag raised over the Reichstag building in Berlin in 1945 - in honour of the 70th anniversary of Victory Day.
However, on Wednesday, Roscosmos announced in a news release that the flag was not on the malfunctioning cargo ship.
“The Victory Banner is aboard the International Space Station,” the agency said in a news release Wednesday that did not mention the Progress M-27M. “It was delivered on March 27” aboard another ship, the agency said.
New York Times