A Russian spacecraft that launched from Kazakhstan Thursday morning suffered a problem and was lost as it flew to the International Space Station, NASA and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, said.
In a statement, Roscosmos said that it lost communications with the Progress spacecraft and that radar stations did not detect it. "Most of [the] cargo spacecraft fragments burned in the dense atmosphere," Roscosmos said.
The failure marks the fourth time spacecrafts launched on resupply missions to the station have failed in two years. "The loss of the cargo ship will not affect the normal operations of the ISS, and the life of the station crew," Roscosmos said.
No one was on board the Progress vehicle, officials said, which was to deliver 2.6 tons of food, fuel, and supplies to the astronauts on the orbiting station. The rocket blasted off at 9:51 a.m. East Coast time. But then "an anomaly occurred sometime during the third stage operation," NASA said.
It was unclear what caused the problem.
"Our astronauts and the Russian cosmonauts are safe aboard the station," NASA said. "Consumables aboard the station are at good levels."
In a recording that NASA posted to its website, a space agency official in Houston can be informing the astronauts aboard the station, which includes two Americans, Robert Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson. "Unfortunately, I have some not so great news to pass along to you guys," the NASA official said. There were indications that the third stage separated a few minutes before it was supposed to, she said.
The incident is the second time a Russian spacecraft has been lost in recent months. Last year, another Progress vehicle tumbled uncontrollably through space and failed to reach the station. In 2014, a rocket operated by a Dulles-based company now known as Orbital ATK blew up shortly after lifting from the launchpad at Wallops, Va. One of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets exploded a couple minutes into flight while headed to the station in 2015.
SpaceX, one of the companies NASA relies on to to supply the station, is grounded after another of its rockets blew up earlier this year. It expects to return to flight in December, pending the outcome of an investigation into the explosion.
SpaceX and Boeing are developing spacecraft designed to fly astronauts to the station. In the meantime, the Russians fly America's astronauts on its Soyuz rocket.