Russian Spacecraft Fails to Boost ISS into Higher Orbit

This story was updated at 11:34 a.m. EDT.

A Russianspacecraft stopped short of boosting the International Space Station (ISS) intoa higher orbit Tuesday when its engines unexpectedly shut down in mid-maneuver,Russian space officials said.

"After thefirst turn-on of the engines...they turned off spontaneously," a spokesperson forRussia's Federal Space Agency told the Interfax NewsAgency.

The failedorbital maneuver poses no danger to the ISS or its two-astronaut crew, Expedition12 commander Bill McArthur and flight engineer ValeryTokarev, and engineers are currently studying theglitch, according to a Federal Space Agency statement.

"There isno forecast at the moment as to when they would try again," NASA spokespersonRob Navias told from Johnson Space Center(JSC) in Houston, Texas. "[But] there's no urgency to do this."

Russian andU.S. space station flight controllers expected to perform two engine burnsTuesday using the Progress19 spacecraft's engines evening to raise the ISS into a higher orbit. Thespacecraft is docked at the aft end of the station's Zvezda module.

The engineburns, each scheduled to run 11 minutes and 40 seconds, were slated for 5:09p.m. EDT (2109 GMT) and 6:33 p.m. EDT (2233 GMT), and were expected to raisethe ISS into an orbit that hits 224 statute miles (360 kilometers) at itshighest point, a bit higher that the station's current orbital peak of 220statute miles (354 kilometers), NASA officials said Tuesday.

But theProgress engines switched off less than two minutes into the first burn, NASA officials said, adding that there appeared to be a communications problem between the spacecraft's thrusters and Russian navigation computers, which shut down the engines as designed due to the data dropout.

The brief engine burn did accelerate the ISS by about 1.04 feet per second (0.31 meters per second) and raised the lowest point of the station's orbit - 211 miles (339 kilometers) - by about 0.7 miles (1.1 kilometers), according to NASA officials.

Otherengines could be used to boost the space station's orbit, but Russian spaceofficials are still evaluating the glitch, the Federal Space Agency said.

Tuesday'saltitude-raising maneuver was slated to place the station into the properposition for a second orbital boost later this year that would set up the ISSto receive an unmanned Russian-built cargo ship - Progress 20 - slated tolaunch toward the space station on Dec. 21, Naviasadded.

Progress 20will ferry vital supplies, spare parts and equipment to McArthur and Tokarev, who begantheir six-month tour aboard the ISS this month.

  • Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 12

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.