Supply spacecraft fails to dock with ISS

The Russian supply spacecraft Progress was unable to dock at the International space station on Friday.

Mission control centre near Moscow says the unmanned spacecraft missed the docking port – and is now "rotating uncontrollably".

According to NASA, the supply craft’s automatic rendevouz and docking system have broken down. The cosmonauts attempted to carry out the docking manually, but were unsuccessful. This is the first time the space crew failed to perform a manual docking.

The spacecraft flew by the ISS and is now reported to be some three kilometers from the station.

Progress is carrying more than one ton of supplies, as well as fuel for the station.

The next attempt to dock the Progress spacecraft with the ISS will be Sunday at 8 p.m. Moscow time [5 p.m. GMT].

At the moment, a crew of six Russians and Americans are carrying out their mission onboard the ISS.

“The station always has a reserve of all vital supplies. So what happened is not critical. This delay is not affecting either the crew nor the station,” said Vitaly Davydov, Deputy Head of the Federal Space Agency.

“The situation is far from becoming serious,” confirmed Valery Lyndin, spokesman for the Russian Mission Control. “They will re-attempt the docking in two days. The Deputy Chief of the Russian space agency has said there is no emergency situation on board the cargo ship. As for the ISS, there are always reserve supplies of air and water, so people on board can continue living and working. So it is far too early to panic.”

For now, the main goal for the Space specialists both on the ground and in orbit is to determine what went wrong and what caused the failure. NASA and the Russian Space Agency Roskosmos are going to hold consultations on Saturday.

“Progress” has shown itself to be a reliable spacecraft. It has been delivering cargo to the International Space Station from the first.

Mark Bowman, from NASA’s human Space Flight Program, says the failure of the ‘Progress’ craft to dock was a test of its reliability, which it passed by eliminating any risk of collision with the ISS.

“The Progress vehicles are very reliable, very robust and in fact yesterday’s failed docking demonstrates its reliability because the spacecraft did exactly what it was supposed to do,” says Mark Bowman.

Watch full interview with Mark Bowman


“I would not say this incident will damage the image of the Progress space craft,” said Yury Karash, space expert. “Nothing happened to the hardware, there is neither an immediate nor long term threat, either to the International Space Station nor to its crew, and the chances are pretty high that the problem will be fixed a day from now.”

Talking about image is really important now since the American space shuttle program is nearing its end and it is going to be mainly up to the “Progress” cargo ships to deliver supplies to the ISS.

Although the situation is unprecedented, there is no need for concern,  Yury Karash believes.

He said this incident would not affect the lives or work of the space crew as “they have enough supplies of water, air and food.”

However, Karash added that some experiments might be postponed, as “Progress had carried some of them to the ISS.”

Listen to the phone interview with Yury Karash


Space entrepreneur Jeff Manber explained while this situation is unprecedented for the International Space Station, in 1997 the Meir Space Station encountered a similar problem where a supply shipment nearly crashed into the station.

Manber believes the issue will become political in America. He argued that this incident is likely to push some in the US Congress to fight the closure of the NASA Space Shuttle program, based on the argument that we cannot be dependent on one nation, Russia, to run everything.

“Here, right now, NASA is at a sensitive time. The White House policy is being held up by a bi-partisan group of opponents, Republicans and Democrats are not happy with ending the shuttle program, even thought it was suggested by George Bush. They are not happy with the direction the Obama Administration is going. They will probably seize on this to say, wait a second, we can’t just give it up and let Russia run everything,” said Manber.

Manber himself favors phasing out the shuttle. He argued that Russia has operational vehicles, that China will soon be in the space station business, both France and Japan have available ships and that the American Falcon-9 will soon be flying again.

Watch full interview with Jeff Manber