Science & Environment

Russian spacecraft 'to fall back to Earth on Friday'

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Media captionNasa released footage showing the spaceship spinning

A Russian spacecraft that has been out of control since launching last week will fall back to Earth and burn up on Friday, scientists say.

The unmanned cargo ship was launched from Kazakhstan last Tuesday, but contact was lost with it soon afterwards.

The spacecraft, carrying three tonnes of equipment, will disintegrate as it enters Earth's atmosphere.

Any fragments to reach Earth should hit the sea and not land.

The Progress M-27M was to deliver food, water, fuel, oxygen and clothing to the crew of six people on the International Space Station, that orbits about 420km (250 miles) above Earth.

But after a communications failure, it began spiralling out of control.

Since then, it has been slowly descending, and orbiting Earth in a pattern that takes it over the eastern United States, Colombia, Brazil and Indonesia.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The Progress M-27M cargo ship launched from Kazakhstan last week with three tonnes of equipment on board
Image copyright ESA/Nasa
Image caption Progress had been due to deliver fuel, food and supplies to the International Space Station

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, said on Wednesday it expected the spacecraft to "end its existence" between 01:23 and 11:55 Moscow time on Friday (22:23 GMT Thursday and 06:55 GMT Friday).

It said: "Only a few small parts of elements of its construction could reach the surface of our planet."

Last week, Cathleen Lewis, a specialist in Russian space programmes at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, said: "The likelihood of it coming down and hitting someone is so remote as to be minuscule."

A special commission has been set up in Russia to investigate why Progress was lost. In 2011, one of its predecessors was destroyed when it crashed soon after take-off in Siberia.

Even after Progress' loss, the astronauts have enough supplies to keep them going until the next expected delivery on 19 June.

A Roscosmos spokesman told Reuters that the loss was valued at 2.59 billion roubles ($50.7m; £32.9m).