Space & Innovation

Russian Spacecraft Spinning Out of Control in Orbit

The Russian space agency is scrambling to regain control of a robotic cargo ship that appears to have suffered a serious malfunction.

The Russian space agency Roscosmos is scrambling to regain control of a robotic Progress 59 cargo ship that appears to have suffered a serious malfunction shortly after launching into orbit early today (April 28).

Video from the Progress 59 spacecraft showed it in a dizzying spin, with the Earth and sun rapidly coming into and then out of frame. Russian flight controllers abandoned plans to attempt to dock the cargo ship with the International Space Station on Thursday (April 30), NASA spokesman Rob Navias said in a NASA TV update. That docking - originally scheduled for this morning, then pushed to Thursday - is now "indefinitely postponed," Navias said.

The problems began shortly after Progress 59 launched into space atop a Russian Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Liftoff occurred at 3:09 a.m. EDT (0709 GMT), with the cargo ship packed with just over 3 tons of food, fuel and other supplies. [How Russia's Progress Spacecraft Work (Infographic)]

Epic Aurora Photos From the Space Station

"Almost immediately after spacecraft separation, a series of telemetry problems were detected with the Progress 59," Navias said during a televised broadcast from NASA's Mission Control center at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. "No confirmation of navigational antenna deploy or of the pressurization of the manifold system for the propulsion system on the spacecraft was received."

Russian flight controllers attempted to regain control of Progress 59 as the spacecraft made four orbits around Earth, with no success. Late tonight, the spacecraft will make another series of passes over Russian ground stations, and flight controllers will resume their recovery work then, Navias said.

"The crew on board the International Space Station has pressed ahead with maintenance work today as well as biomedical experiment activities," he added. The station's current Expedition 43 crew includes three Russians, two Americans and one Italian astronaut.

Russia's Progress spacecraft are disposable robotic cargo ships that have served as workhorse resupply vehicles for the International Space Station. They have been restocking the station since the first crews took up residence in 2000 and have a long track record of success. In August 2011, a launch malfunction led to the crash of the Progress 44 cargo ship.

Progress vehicles are equipped with a Kurs automated navigation system that allows them to make autonomous dockings with the space station. A backup system, called the Telerobotically Operated Rendezvous Unit, allows cosmonauts on the station to take manual remote control in the event of a Kurs system failure.

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Progress spacecraft have a similar three-module appearance to Russia's manned Soyuz space capsules. Instead of a crew capsule, Progress vehicles carry a tanker module filled with propellant for use in reboosting the space station's orbit.

Russia's Progress vehicles are part of a fleet of robotic spacecraft that routinely deliver supplies to the International Space Station. Robotic ships from Japan and Europe have made supply runs, as well as commercial spacecraft built by the U.S. companies SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp., which fly delivery missions for NASA.

The most recent cargo ship to visit the space station was the unmanned SpaceX Dragon capsule, which launched on April 14 and arrived at the orbiting lab on April 17.

Space.com Staff Writer Calla Cofield contributed to this report. Original article on Space.com.

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This image is a still from a video camera aboard Russia's Progress 59 cargo ship that showed the vehicle clearly spinning in orbit.

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.