Russia restarts Progress spacecraft and corrects ISS orbit after series of failures

Space News

Russia’s space agency said Monday it had managed to restart the engines of the Progress spacecraft and correct the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS) which it is attached to, after a failed first attempt.

“On Sunday night, the orbit of the ISS was successfully corrected,” Roscosmos told Russian news agencies, 48 hours after the initial attempt to switch on the spacecraft’s engines proved unsuccessful.

progress2A different Russian Progress cargo craft (right) is seen docked to a spacecraft to supply the International Space Station.

ISS is now at the right altitude for its three crew members to return to Earth in early June after the operation by the Progress M-26M cargo vehicle, which began just after 3.30am Moscow time (0030 GMT) and took about half an hour.

Roscosmos has been plunged into crisis by a series of embarrassing failures, drawing fury from politicians and prompting Moscow to launch an inquiry into the space industry after firing its previous head last year.

On Saturday morning, hours after the failed first attempt to right the ISS, Russia also lost a Mexican telecommunications satellite following the failed launch of the Proton-M carrier rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev immediately launched an inquiry after the satellite incident, demanding answers from the head of the space agency, Igor Komarov, and suggesting heads could roll.

“This accident is the consequence of a systematic crisis in the [space] industry,” the deputy prime minister in charge of the aerospace sector, Dmitry Rogozin, said in a statement, adding that a new bill on Roscosmos would be put before Russia’s parliament on Tuesday.

Last week’s setbacks came less than a month after an unmanned Progress spacecraft meant to supply the ISS lost contact with Earth, shortly after takeoff on 28 April, before disintegrating on re-entry less than two weeks later.

Russia is currently reforming its space industry, but experts say years of underfunding mean there is a shortage in new-generation specialists to replace those recruited in the Soviet era.

“For 20 years, the sector has not been funded and the staff not trained,” MP Valeri Gartoung, who heads the commission for the space industry in Russia’s parliament, was quoted as saying by the Russian news agency Ria Novosti.

Monday’s successful operation by the Progress M-26M spacecraft means three astronauts on the ISS – Russian Anton Shkaplerov, American Terry Virts and Italian Samantha Cristoforetti – will be able to return to Earth within weeks.

Their return has already been delayed by a month after the failure of the April mission.

The new ISS team, which was initially scheduled to take off on 26 May from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, is now due to join the station at the end of July.