An uncrewed cargo ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) might now be wreckage at the bottom of the sea or a bunch of pieces in the middle of nowhere.
On Thursday morning, Roscosmos — Russia's space agency — launched an expendable Progress module crammed with 5,383 lbs of food, water, medical equipment, toiletries, and other supplies toward the ISS. It was riding a Soyuz rocket launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome site in Kazakhstan.
However, a little more than 6 minutes and 30 seconds into its roughly 9-minute flight, the Progress ship stopped communicating. That was more than 2 minutes before it was supposed to enter orbit, according to Spaceflight Now.
"After the launch of the Soyuz-U launch vehicle along with the Progress MS-04 cargo spacecraft, telemetry connection was lost on the 383th second of flight," read a tweet from Roscomos, according to a translation by RT.com, one of Russia's state-controlled news agencies.
After that point, the Progress should have separated from the third and final upper stage of the Soyuz rocket.
TASS, a news agency formed during the Soviet Union and also controlled by Russia, cited an unnamed source in one of its stories about the incident. The source, who allegedly works in the space rocket industry, said the Progress module has probably already "crashed in China or the Pacific Ocean" because the problem occurred before the spacecraft finally separated from its rocket.
However, more recent (but still unsubstantiated) reports suggest the rocket crashed on land.
It looks like today's Russian rocket launch crashed, as the 3rd-stage motor failed. Not good. https://t.co/jtO28qBGej https://t.co/RqoINnle2v
The Tuva region is just east of Kazakhstan and west of Mongolia:
Whatever happened to Progress MS-04, it's quite a hiccup for operations aboard the ISS.
But in a post for NASA's Space Station blog, writer Mark Garcia said "astronauts and the Russian cosmonauts are safe aboard the station," and that "[c]onsumables aboard the station are at good levels."
NASA is also reminding the public that JAXA — Japan's space agency — is launching its HTV-6 cargo ship to the ISS on December 9, so spaceflyers may not wait long for more supplies.
NASASoyuz rockets also launch astronauts and cosmonauts into space.
Companies like SpaceX, Boeing, and Orbital ATK are developing alternative means of getting people to the ISS, since the Soyuz system is currently the only way to get to the space station.
Until then, NASA will continue to pay Russia up to $81 million per astronaut, absent something like SpaceX's Dragon crew module atop a Falcon 9 rocket (which recently suffered an explosive failure during a launchpad test).
We're updating this story as we find new information, so stay tuned. (Latest update: 1:37 p.m. ET on December 1, 2016.)