Progress 59 ISS supply craft doomed to crash into Earth

29 Apr 2015

ISS Progress 47 is shown docked at the ISS’s Pirs docking compartment on 25 April. Image via NASA

The Russian resupply craft for the International Space Station (ISS), Progress 59, is spinning uncontrollably in Earth’s orbit following ‘telemetry errors’ found soon after spacecraft separation.

The unmanned Progress 59 capsule was packed with three tonnes of food, fuel and supplies for the current crew of the ISS, which includes the year-long crew of NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Roscosmos cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

According to, the team of Russian flight controllers began detecting issues the moment the craft had separated from the main body of the spacecraft, detecting a number of telemetry issues, including no confirmation of the deployment of its navigational antenna as well as no pressurisation of the craft’s propulsion system.

Footage that has been sent back by the craft to Russian ground control and NASA shows a rather dizzying video of Progress 59 spinning out of control for a mission that NASA says is now “indefinitely postponed”.

Since yesterday, the Russian ground control team has been attempting to recover the craft’s telemetry capabilities but, as of 4am (UTC), it has been unable to regain control of the seemingly doomed craft, according to NASA’s updates.

Meanwhile, the crew aboard the ISS will have to get on with its many other duties and has “pressed ahead with maintenance work today as well as biomedical experiment activities”, according to NASA’s spokesperson Rob Navias.

The last major incident to happen to one of Russia’s Progress crafts was in 2011 when a launch malfunction for Progress 44 caused the craft to crash before it even reached outer space.

Progress 59 infographic

Infographic via


It appears now that Progress 59 is doomed to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere after all attempts to rescue it by Russian ground control now appear hopeless.

According to Thomas Reiter, director of human spaceflight and operations at the European Space Agency (ESA), the craft will spend the next week-and-a-half orbiting the Earth before burning up in its atmosphere.

Roscosmos is now preparing to attempt a water landing for a mission that will cost the Russian space agency 5bn roubles (€86m), but will be offset by insurance taken out on the craft to the value of 2bn roubles (€34.6m).

Meanwhile, ISS astronaut Scott Kelly eased fears of any major effect on the space station, telling Associated Press: “We should be OK. The programme plans for these kinds of things to happen. It’s very unfortunate when they do. The important thing is hardware can be replaced.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic