The short and ignominious life of the Progress-59 cargo ship is coming to an end, with re-entry into Earth's atmosphere expected as early as 6:13 p.m. EDT today.
That assessment mid-day Thursday comes from the Russian space agency Roscosmos, which launched the capsule on April 28 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Flight controllers lost contact with the freighter shortly after it reached orbit and have since been keeping tabs on it via ground-based radars.
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The Air Force's Joint Space Operations Center, which tracks satellites and debris orbiting Earth, put Progress' projected re-entry at 9:36 p.m. EDT over China. The exact time and location of re-entry, however, cannot be determined due to constantly changing conditions in Earth's upper atmosphere, which creates drag that impacts the satellite's speed and position.
The capsule and its three tons of cargo are expected to burn up during re-entry.
"Only a few small pieces of structural elements could reach the planet's surface," Roscosmos said in a statement on its website.
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The situation is similar to what happens on a routine Progress cargo run to the station, a research laboratory that flies about 250 miles above Earth.
Engineers are still investigating what happened to the Progress capsule launched last week. Preliminary results are expected to be announced on Wednesday. Depending on what investigators find, Russia may delay the May 26 launch of a new crew to the station. The Soyuz capsule files on a different type of Soyuz rocket, but there may be some common elements.