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Doomed Russian Spaceship May Re-Enter Next Week

An out-of-control Russian capsule, loaded with more than 3 tons of cargo, may burn up in the atmosphere as early as next week.

An out-of-control Russian Progress capsule, loaded with more than 3 tons of cargo for the International Space Station, may burn up in the atmosphere as early as next week, NASA said on Friday.

Ground controllers lost contact with the ship shortly after its launch on Tuesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Engineers tried for more than a day to rescue the craft, to no avail.

Epic Aurora Photos From the Space Station

Instead of reaching the station, where a crew of six was awaiting to restock their pantries and supply rooms, Progress-59 became a pricy piece of space junk, one of more than 500,000 man-made items circling Earth that are big enough to be tracked by Air Force radars.

An investigation in the botched mission is underway. Preliminary findings indicate a problem with the capsule's separation from its Soyuz launcher. Among the evidence: debris orbiting near the tumbling Progress capsule, the Air Force's Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) reports.

"The JSpOC has observed 44 pieces of debris in the vicinity of the resupply vehicle and its upper stage rocket body; however, it cannot confirm at this time if the debris is from the rocket body or vehicle itself," the Air Force said in a statement.

Russian Spacecraft Spinning Out of Control in Orbit

On Wednesday, the Russian space agency Roscosmos said flight controllers lost communications with the Progress spacecraft 1.5 seconds before it was due to separate from its launcher's third stage.

"The JSpOC will continuously track the cargo craft and debris, performing conjunction analysis and warning of any potential collisions in order to ensure spaceflight safety for all," the Air Force said.

On Friday, the spacecraft's egg-shaped orbit was coming as close as 118 miles above Earth. Real-time tracking information is available at n2yo.com. The capsule's designation is Progress-M 27M.

A Russian Progress cargo capsule.

In recent weeks, the crew on board the International Space Station have been treated to some awesome views of space weather in action. The sun, which has been spluttering out some small to mid-sized flares and coronal mass ejections recently, frequently injects charged particles into our planet's magnetosphere. After being channeled toward high latitudes by Earth's magnetic field, this solar plasma impacts our atmosphere, erupting into a stunning auroral display.

What is the Aurora Borealis?

This view from the space station was captured by one of the crew and shows the multicolored streamers of an aurora over the Southern Hemisphere -- known as the Aurora Australis. The different colors correspond to different gases in the atmosphere becoming energized by the solar plasma impacting the atmosphere at high altitudes.

Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev

captured this eerie photo

of a diffuse aurora over Earth out of one of the space station's windows. The orbiting outpost's solar panels can be seen to the left.

With the space station's robotic Canadarm 2 folded outside the space station, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman

posted this photograph of an aurora to Twitter on Aug. 29

.

A bright green aurora snakes over the atmosphere below the space station. Green aurorae are caused by lower altitude oxygen atoms in our atmosphere being energized by solar wind electrons.

A burst of beautiful green and red aurorae were spotted on Aug. 19 and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman

tweeted this photo with the message

: "Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine this."

The nighttime hemisphere of the Earth is almost dark apart from the ghostly glow of a green aurora.

Often resembling a curtain swaying in the wind, aurorae are strikingly dynamic. They morph into a variety of shapes depending on the quantity of solar plasma hitting the atmosphere and the orientation of the magnetic field.

Photographed here by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst

on Aug. 27, a stunning, curved aurora cuts across the limb of the Earth.

Looking down at Earth during a solar storm, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst

tweeted this photo on Sept. 2 with the message

, "This is what we see looking down while being inside an aurora."

The moon sets into an "glowing ocean of green",

as described by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst in a tweet on Sept. 3

. Two Soyuz spacecraft can be seen in the foreground docked to the space station.