Russian cargo ship destined for fiery end on Friday

Contact was lost with Progress 59 soon after launch.
By Andrew McDonald | May 06, 2015
As reported by Reuters, the Russian Progress 59 unmanned cargo vessel is expected to reenter Earth's atmosphere and burn up on Friday. The wayward craft is being tracked by the U.S. Air Force.

Progress 59 was launched on April 28 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, bound for the International Space Station and hauling over three tons of material to the orbiting outpost. However, shortly after the spacecraft attained orbit, contact was lost. Flight controllers strove to regain communications with Progress 59, but could not righten its course and orientation.

On Wednesday, Progress 59 was observed orbiting only 107 miles above Earth's surface, its orbit decaying. The craft is anticipated to reenter the atmosphere around 5:00 a.m. EST on Friday. Progress 59 is expected to be almost completely incinerated, with perhaps only a small number of tiny pieces surviving to reach the surface; any pieces that do reach the surface likely will fall into the ocean.

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, will conduct its own investigation, with initial findings due on May 13. The U.S. Air Force's Joint Space Operations Center located 44 fragments of debris in the vicinity of Progress 59 and its upper-stage booster, suggesting that an explosion might have happened immediately before or during the process of separation.

Fortunately, Progress 59 is not carrying materials essential to ISS operations; both the Russian and US portions of the station are well stocked with extra supplies. The next resupply mission will be the seventh SpaceX Dragon cargo run sometime after June 19.

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