Russia’s space agency says an unmanned cargo ship has crashed, 383 seconds after it blasted off en route to rendezvous with the International Space Station.
It came only hours after a keynote speech by Vladimir Putin to legislators in which he claimed Russia was successfully charting its way in the world despite Western sanctions.
The spacecraft, which was scheduled to arrive at the ISS on Saturday, was carrying rocket fuel and oxygen tanks, when it took off from the former Soviet cosmodrome at Baikonur in Kazakhstan.
The spacecraft lost contact with control and an explosion was reported near Biysk, in Siberia, around the time the spacecraft vanished.
It is not clear if the spacecraft came down in the Tuva Republic, in Siberia, or came down in neighbouring Mongolia or even the Pacific Ocean.
The Russian space agency Roscosmos tweeted this image of the spaceship launching from the Baikonur cosmodrome. It is not clear what went wrong
Putin’s space guru and close ally, deputy premier Dmitry Rogozin, said this week Moscow was ‘overcoming a series of defeats, hurtful accidents and catastrophes’ in its rocket launches.
But space agency Roscosmos said today: ‘Communication was lost today 383 seconds after the launch of the Soyuz-U carrier rocket with the cargo ship Progress MS-04.’
Specialists are trying to work out what went wrong.
The loss will be seen as acutely embarrassing in Moscow, and especially for Rogozin who clamed ‘issues of quality’ over space launches had been stabilised after a series of failures.
NASA said: ‘Our astronauts and the Russian cosmonauts are safe aboard the station. Consumables aboard the station are at good levels.’
Interfax reported the International Space Station has enough food reserves to continue working until the arrival of a reserve cargo rocket.
Putin’s space guru Dmitry Rogozin (pictured) said only this week that Russia was ‘overcoming a series of defeats, hurtful accidents and catastrophes’ in rocket launches
The cargo-carrying space ship took off from the cosmodrome at Baikonur in Kazakhstan and fell back to Earth shortly after crossing the Russian border
Reports said the space launch had come down in the frozen Tuva Republic in southern Siberia, and searches are underway in this region favoured as a holiday destination by Putin and his defence minister Sergei Shoigu, who hails from the area.
Russian news agency RIA Novosti said: ‘The wreckage presumably fell in Tuva and a search is being organised.’
But other reports suggested it could have come down over the Altai Mountains, or China or even in the Pacific.
‘The time and location of the crash would depend of how the third stage engines worked,’ said a Russian space source.
The third stage of the Soyuz carrier rocket probably separated too early after lift-off, an undisclosed source told Russian state news agency TASS.
Footage showed the spaceship apparently taking off normally from Baikonur (pictured) but the mission went wrong minutes later
The spacecraft was set to deliver 2.6 metric tons of fuel, water, food and other supplies (it is pictured during take-off today)
Today’s disaster comes 18 months after another Progress cargo ship launch failed.
That failure, which Russia blamed on a problem in a Soyuz rocket, saw the ship disintegrate as it plummeted to Earth.
That incident meant Russia put all space travel on hold for nearly three months and forced a group of astronauts to spend an extra month on the ISS.
Russia said all issues with Progress resupply missions needed to be thoroughly investigated before any manned vessels could be launched.
Russia sends three or four such spacecraft every year to supply the ISS.
Russia’s space agency said it lost contact with the unmanned cargo ship 383 seconds after it blasted off for the International Space Station (pictured)
The spaceship was carrying hundreds of kilograms of medical and food supplies as well as equipment (pictured), including 87 kilos of American cargo
Last month American astronaut Peggy Whitson (pictured), Frenchman Thomas Pesquet and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky arrived on the ISS for a six-month mission
After making their delivery, they plummet back to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere above the Pacific Ocean.
Last month Frenchman Thomas Pesquet, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky and American astronaut Peggy Whitson launched to the ISS for a six-month mission.
The launch followed that of Russians Andrei Borisenko and Sergei Ryzhikov and American Shane Kimbrough in October, which was pushed back by nearly a month due to technical issues.
The Baikonur cosmodrome was built in Kazakhstan – then a republic of the old Soviet Union – in the early 1960s and while Russia has now built a new cosmodrome at Vostochny in the Russian Far East, it is still using Baikonur.
There have been reported sightings of the spacecraft over Biysk, in southern Russia (pictured)
The spacecraft (pictured), meant to resupply the International Space Station, suffered a malfunction shortly after launch
Technical mishaps have complicated plans to extend the periods during which the ISS is fully staffed with six astronauts.
Russia’s Soyuz capsules offer the only way for global astronauts to reach the space station since the American space shuttle program was retired in 2011.
A similar incident with the Soyuz-U launch occurred in August 2011 when the third-stage engine failed due to the clogging of a fuel line, said Russian sources.
The Progress M-12M space freighter on board the third stage failed to reach the designated orbit and disintegrated in the Earth’s atmosphere during an uncontrolled fall.
The space laboratory, where a range of research is carried out, has been orbiting Earth at about 17,000 miles per hour since 1998.