Spaceflight Insider

Lost: Progress MS-04 cargo craft fails to reach orbit

Progress MS-04 Animation

Telemetry with the Progress MS-04 mission was lost after 382 seconds into the flight. Later reports confirmed the spacecraft did not achieve orbit. Image Credit: Roscosmos

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, reported that it lost the Progress MS-04 spacecraft that was delivering cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). Contact was lost with the spacecraft after 382 seconds into the flight while it was flying on its third stage.

Per Roscosmos:

According to preliminary information, the contingency took place at an altitude of about 190 km over remote and unpopulated mountainous area of the Republic of Tyva. The most of cargo spacecraft fragments burned in the dense atmosphere. The State Commission is conducting analysis of the current contingency. The loss of the cargo ship will not affect the normal operations of the ISS and the life of the station crew.

Progress MS-04 launch events

The Progress mission, designated MS-04, was carrying 1,400 pounds (635 kg) of propellant for refueling the ISS, 925 pounds (420 kg) of water and 112 pounds (51 kg) of oxygen for the astronauts, as well as food, clothing, medicines, and scientific equipment – all totalling over 2.6 tons (2.36 metric tons). The Soyuz-U carrier rocket lifted off at 9:51 a.m. EST (5:51 p.m. Moscow time / 14:51 GMT) Dec. 1 from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The first two rocket stages appeared to have functioned nominally. However, while the third stage was scheduled to burn until almost nine minutes into the flight, six minutes into ascent, Roscosmos lost telemetry from the vehicle.

Live TV coverage of the launch confirmed that the separation of the third stage never came. The spacecraft’s navigational antennas deployed, but not the solar arrays.

Several accounts on Twitter have reported a large explosion in the sky over Russia’s Tuva region as well as reports of falling debris. Roscosmos announced at 12:39 EST (8:39 p.m. Moscow Time / 17:39 GMT) that it had not detected MS-04 in its intended orbit.

Ongoing challenges for Russian space launch

While this is only the third failure for a Progress mission, the Parabolic Arc noted that Russian launch vehicles – including Proton, Soyuz, Rockot, and Zenit – have experienced 13 failures since 2009.

The first failure involving a Progress spacecraft was in 2011, which saw the loss of Progress M-12M. That launch occurred on Aug. 24, 2011, on the same rocket type as launched today.

Nearly four years later, on April 28, 2015, Progress M-27M, which launched on a Soyuz 2.1a rocket, ran into problems and was lost. Its failure mode was quite different. The spacecraft managed to reach orbit and successfully deploy its solar arrays, but not its antennas. Mission Control Center (MCC) Moscow couldn’t communicate with it but eventually got video of it tumbling wildly in space.

It eventually destructively re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on May 8, 2015. The cause was deemed to be a design flaw between the Soyuz 2.1a rocket and the Progress spacecraft.

There could be some correlation between the failure of the Progress MS-04 spacecraft and the failure of the Progress M-12M spacecraft. Both launched atop Soyuz-U rockets. Both suffered failures during the third stage and, based on current reports, today’s launch may have also suffered a premature third stage shutdown.

ISS status

NASA reported that the space station crew is safe and consumables are at good levels. Not long after the failure, the six-person Expedition 50 crew was notified about the incident.

According to NASASpaceflight, the space station, currently, has enough supplies on board to last through April 2017 (or June 2017 with rationing). However, the main limiting resource on the outpost is water – supplies of which are expected to last until March 2017 without rationing and up to mid-June if the crew size is reduced or rationing is put into place.

However, there are other cargo ships in the queue to launch to the ISS. On Dec. 9, 2016, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is expecting to launch its Kounotori-6 cargo craft. It will berth to the outpost about a week later.

Additionally, in January 2017, SpaceX is hoping to launch the CRS-10 Dragon capsule to the station, and, in March, an Orbital ATK Cygnus will launch to the ISS via an Atlas V, both from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Video courtesy of NASA



Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.

Reader Comments

That third stage came from Ukraine? Hope it wasn’t sabotaged.

> That third stage came from Ukraine?

No, it came from Samara.

In spaceflight, nothing can be taken for granted. The SpaceX failure on the test stand fully illustrates that, as does last year’s Orbital ATK in flight anomaly.

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