HOUSTON – Russia’s troubled Progress 59 cargo spacecraft is unable to dock with the International Space Station and will make an uncontrolled re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, U.S. and Russian flight controllers told the orbiting lab’s six-member crew on April 29.

A Russian exchange with cosmonaut Gennady Padalka also raised the specter that the freighter and its 6,100-lb. cargo experienced difficulties during separation from the third stage of its Soyuz booster rocket.

The Progress 59 supply mission began with a liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 28 at 3:09 a.m. EDT. At just less than 9-min. into the flight, the Progress 59 separated from the third stage and deployed solar arrays, setting up what was to be a 6-hr., four-orbit sprint to the ISS. However, the expected deployments of two KURS navigation antennas required for the final phases of the docking and pressurization of the propulsion system for the rendezvous maneuvers failed to occur.

Communications with Russia’s Mission Control were sporadic. As the resupply craft flew over Russian ground stations during the first four orbits, it became clear the spacecraft was rotating, then tumbling. Follow-on recovery efforts by Russian flight controllers that stretched into early April 29 failed to establish control. Those included efforts to direct propellant to the steering thrusters.

“We attempted to do something today, but unfortunately nothing has worked out,” Russia’s Mission Control told cosmonaut Gennady Padalka in an April 29, 5:30 a.m. EDT translated exchange, prior to a formal decision from Russia to declare a failed mission. “We made multiple attempts to save the vehicle, but unfortunately nothing has worked out. The booster separation was a major issue. We are thinking about what to do next. That is all we know right now.”

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly elaborated from the six-person ISS during an interview with the Associated Press 4 hr. later and 30 min. after Russian controllers called off further efforts to gain control of the freighter. The timing was confirmed by NASA spokesman Rob Navias. “We were told by both the U.S. and Russian flight control centers that Roscosmos announced the Progress will not be docking and will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere some days in the future to be determined,” Kelly said. “This Progress is not coming to the space station.”

Kelly echoed the sentiments expressed by NASA in the hours following the troubled launching: nothing irreplaceable was aboard the Progress and the ISS is adequately provisioned through the launch of the next cargo mission, a SpaceX Dragon cargo delivery currently planned for a June 19 liftoff.

That adds urgency to the third SpaceX resupply mission this year, which was already designated to deliver the first of two new International Docking Adaptors as part of ongoing efforts by NASA to equip the ISS with a pair of docking ports for future U.S. commercial crew transport vehicles under development by Boeing and SpaceX. NASA’s station program managers have said they would like to have at least one of the two parking spots operable by the end of this year, though regular CST-100 and Dragon crew transport missions are not anticipated until late 2017.

Meanwhile, ballistics specialists in the NASA and Russian Mission Control Centers began an exchange of tracking data on the rogue Progress spacecraft on April 28. The exchange is intended to facilitate predictions on the place and timing of the freighters uncontrolled re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, said Dan Huot, a NASA space station program spokesman.

Russia’s next Progress resupply mission is tentatively scheduled for an early August liftoff, about two weeks ahead of a Japanese resupply mission.

While Kelly said the current five-man, one-woman U.S., Russian and European ISS crew will not be greatly affected by the Progress loss, he noted some future crewmembers could be inconvenienced.

The lost freighter is carrying clothing for U.S. and Japanese astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui, who are scheduled for a May 26 launch to the ISS aboard a Russian Soyuz crew transport with cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko.

“Long-term impacts? Both programs are looking at that now,” said Kelly, who is just more than a month into a nearly one-year stay on the ISS with cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. “But I think we will be in good shape,” the former ISS commander added.

Current ISS crewmembers Terry Virts of NASA, the European Space Agency’s Samantha Cristoforetti and Russia’s Anton Shkaplerov are to depart for Earth aboard their Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft in mid-May, ending a nearly six-month tour of duty and leaving the ISS temporarily staffed by three astronauts.

The reduced staffing could be extended as a possible means of dealing with a supply problem.

Kelly and Kornienko are part of a shared research effort by the U.S. and Russia to gauge the physical and mental challenges of the months- to years-long missions that will needed to reach deep-space destinations.

In its exchange with Padalka, Russia’s Mission Control asked the veteran cosmonaut to attempt to take photographs of the Progress 59 capsule with long-range lenses as it passed well below the 250-mi.-high ISS late April 29. The pass was anticipated April 29 just before 8:30 p.m. EDT.

“What you need to try to do is get at least some wide-ranging imaging, get an up-close shot as much as possible,” the controllers explained. “Because for further investigation we will need to get some kind of visual on the vehicle. How do you feel about assisting us on that?”

“Not a problem,” Padalka responded. “I’m more than interested in giving a hand.”