Russians hit by double problem

by Chris Bergin

The Russian Space Agency has lost control of a space research satellite on the same day a Progress Cargo ship failed to raise the International Space Station’s (ISS) orbit.

Progress – docked to the ISS – failed to fire its engine past the 170th second mark, as it attempted to raise the station’s orbit by 10 kilometres, while the Khrunichev Space Center confirmed they have lost all contact and control of the Monitor-E satellite.

The ISS slips orbit by up to 150 meters a day and requires the boost to keep it at its optimum altitude, but in the early hours of Tuesday (Russian time) Progress inexplicably shut down its engine after just three minutes of the burn.

Russian controllers are still trying to ascertain the problem with the cargo ship before re-attempting the burn.

“The Progress spacecraft docked to the ISS fired its engines at 01:09 Moscow time, but 170 seconds after the engines suddenly stopped functioning,” Vyacheslav Davidenko of Roskosmos said to RIA. “Everything possible to bring the apparatus back under control, but so far have not succeeded.”

A Johnson Space Center source noted NASA was carefully monitoring the troubleshooting efforts of the Russians. NASA has US astronaut William McArthur on board as commander, while Russia has cosmonaut Valery Tokarev. They are working to prepare the outpost for the arrival of Shuttle Discovery on STS-121 next May.

Also within the last 24 hours, Russian officials have confirmed they have lost control of their Monitor-E satellite – an Earth monitoring probe – which is used for research purposes including mapping and monitoring pollution.

Officials have lost the ability to control the flight and monitoring systems on board the spacecraft.

“Everything possible to bring the apparatus back under control, but so far have not succeeded,” added Davidenko, before launching an angry attack on engineers involved in the preparations of the satellite.

“This situation confirms that Khrunichev specialists failed to fully prepare the satellite for flight, although the center’s director reported that the space vehicle was ready.”

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