MOSCOW: An unmanned cargo ship travelling to the International Space Station burned up in the atmosphere shortly after launching on Thursday, the Russian space agency said. “According to preliminary information, as a result of an abnormal situation, the cargo ship’s loss occurred some 190 kilometres above the remote, unpopulated mountainous territory of (Russia’s) Tuva region, and most fragments burned up in dense layers of the atmosphere,” Roscosmos said in a statement. Earlier, Russia’s space agency said it lost contact with an unmanned cargo ship shortly after it blasted off for the International Space Station, raising concerns after a failed launch under two years ago. “Communication was lost today 383 seconds after the launch of the Soyuz-U carrier rocket with the cargo ship Progress MS-04,” space agency Roscosmos said in a statement, adding that its specialists were looking into the problem. The ship, which was scheduled to arrive at the ISS on Saturday, was carrying 2.4 tonnes of fuel, food and equipment when it took off from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Roscosmos said. A Progress cargo ship launch failed in April 2015. The failure, which Russia blamed on a problem in a Soyuz rocket, saw the ship disintegrate as it plummeted to Earth. The incident saw Russia put all space travel on hold for nearly three months and forced a group of astronauts to spend an extra month on the ISS.
Russia said at the time that because the same type of rocket is used for manned ships, all issues with Progress resupply missions needed to be thoroughly investigated before any manned vessels could be launched. Russia sends three or four such spacecraft per year to supply the ISS. After making their delivery, they plummet back to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere above the Pacific Ocean. Last month Frenchman Thomas Pesquet, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky and American astronaut Peggy Whitson launched to the ISS for a six-month mission. The launch followed that of Russians Andrei Borisenko and Sergei Ryzhikov and American Shane Kimbrough in October, which was pushed back by nearly a month due to technical issues. Technical mishaps have complicated plans to extend the periods during which the ISS is fully staffed with six astronauts. Russia’s Soyuz capsules offer the only way for global astronauts to reach the space station since the American space shuttle programme was retired in 2011. The space laboratory, where a range of research is carried out, has been orbiting Earth at about 28,000 kilometres per hour since 1998.