Robotic Russian cargo ship leaves the ISS, burns up in Earth's atmosphere (photo)

a spacecraft orbits earth with the blackness of space in the background
Russia's robotic Progress 86 freighter departs the International Space Station on May 28, 2024. (Image credit: Roscosmos)

An uncrewed Russian cargo spacecraft came crashing back to Earth today (May 28) as planned.

The Progress 86 freighter undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) today at 4:39 a.m. EDT (0839 GMT) and headed back down to Earth. 

Progress 86 gave up the ghost a few hours later, burning up as planned over the Pacific Ocean, NASA officials said in an update.

Related: Facts about Roscosmos, Russia's space agency

Progress 86 launched atop a Russian Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Dec. 1, 2023. The freighter arrived at the ISS two days later, delivering 5,600 pounds (2,540 kilograms) of food, scientific hardware and other supplies to astronauts aboard the orbiting lab. 

Progress 86 didn't come down empty today; it served as a garbage truck in its final hours, hauling down trash for incineration in Earth's atmosphere.

Four spacecraft remain parked at the ISS: The Dragon capsule that's flying SpaceX's Crew-8 astronaut mission for NASA, a Russian Soyuz crew spacecraft, the Progress 87 freighter and a Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo vehicle. 

Like Progress, Cygnus is designed for one-time use. But the Soyuz and both versions of SpaceX's Dragon — the cargo and crewed variants — survive the harrowing trip through our planet's air. Soyuz touches down on terra firm, and Dragon makes soft ocean splashdowns.

More craft are set to visit the ISS soon. Russia's Progress 88 freighter is scheduled to launch early Thursday morning (May 30), and Boeing is targeting Saturday afternoon (June 1) for the first crewed launch of its new Starliner capsule. 

Starliner's mission, known as Crew Flight Test, will send two NASA astronauts to the orbiting lab for a roughly week-long stay. If all goes well, Starliner will be certified to fly long-duration crewed missions for the agency. 

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.