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Russia's unmanned Progress burns on re-entry

Russia says its errant cargo spaceship Progress-59 has fallen back into the Earth's atmosphere and disintegrated over the Pacific. The unmanned freighter had been bound for the International Space Station.

The Roscosmos space agency on Friday announced the destructive re-entry of the Progress, saying only a "few small pieces" of its structural elements were likely to splash into the ocean.

Space industry sources were quoted by Russian news agencies as saying the crew on ISS was not in danger of running out of supplies. But, the next Russian launch of astronauts could be delayed for extra checks.

Damaged during launch

Progress, carrying 3 tons (6,000 pounds) of replenishments and space parts, was damaged during launch on April 28 when the Soyuz rocket carrying it exploded seconds before they were due to separate, the sources said.

ISS participatory nations are largely dependent on Russian launches from its Baikonur site in Kazakhstan, given the US mothballing of its Shuttle program in 2011.

For unmanned cargo deliveries, the US hires two firms, one of which, Orbital, lost a cargo ship last October during a failed launch. Another firm, SpaceX, is due to make a supply trip to ISS on June 19.

The Russian news agency TASS quoted a Roscosmos spokesman as saying no decision would be taken on scheduling further launches of its "workhorse" Soyuz rocket until its probe into the April 28 failure was complete.

Shortcomings have emerged in recent years. In 2011, a Progress supply vehicle crashed in Siberia shortly after launch. Moscow has also lost several lucrative commercial satellites.

Two out of 62

Progress has been flying in various versions since 1978.

It has been used 62 times to supply the ISS. Two of those flights were not successful.

Three ISS astronauts are due to return to Earth on May 14. Their replacements had been due to blast off on May 26.

ipj/kms (AFP, Reuters)

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