CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Dec 1 (Reuters) - Russian flight controllers were assessing whether a cargo ship that blasted off on Thursday with more than 2-1/2 tons of food and supplies for the International Space Station reached its intended orbit, NASA said.
Liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan occurred as planned at 9:51 a.m. EST (1451 GMT), a NASA TV broadcast showed. But once the rocket’s third stage began firing, radio transmissions became garbled, leaving the fate of the Progress capsule unclear.
“The Progress is apparently in a preliminary orbit, but what that orbit is is unknown at this time,” launch commentator Rob Navias said.
Flight controllers also did not know whether the capsule deployed its power-generating solar arrays, he added.
Either problem could doom the cargo run, which has become more critical for the station since SpaceX, one of two U.S. companies flying supplies to the station for NASA, has not yet returned to flight following a Sept. 1 launchpad accident.
SpaceX is awaiting approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees U.S. commercial space transportation, to fly as early as Dec. 16 with 10 satellites owned by Iridium Communications Inc.
SpaceX’s next cargo flight for NASA is targeted for January. Orbital ATK and Japan’s space agency also fly supplies to the station, a $100 billion laboratory that flies about 250 miles (418 km) above Earth.
Launch of a Japanese cargo ship is scheduled for Dec. 9. (Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)