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Russian Cargo Spaceship Spins Out of Control After Launch

Image: Progress launch
A Russian Soyuz rocket sends a robotic Progress cargo ship into space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday. The Progress M-27M carried supplies, equipment and memorabilia - including a copy of the Soviet flag that was hoisted on the Berlin Reichstag by Red Army soldiers in 1945. Roscosmos via EPA

Russia's space agency is scrambling to regain control of a robotic Progress cargo ship that appears to have suffered a serious malfunction shortly after launching into orbit on Tuesday.

Video from the Progress 59 spacecraft, also known as Progress M-27M, showed it in a dizzying spin, with Earth and the sun rapidly coming into and then out of frame. Russian flight controllers abandoned plans to attempt to dock the cargo ship with the International Space Station on Thursday, NASA spokesman Rob Navias said. That docking — originally scheduled for Tuesday morning, then pushed to Thursday — is now "indefinitely postponed," Navias said.

The problems began shortly after the Progress launched into space atop a Russian Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Liftoff occurred at 3:09 a.m. EDT, with the cargo ship packed with just over 3 tons of food, fuel and other supplies. [Infographic: How Russia's Progress Spacecraft Works]

"Almost immediately after spacecraft separation, a series of telemetry problems were detected with the Progress 59," Navias said on NASA TV. "No confirmation of navigational antenna deploy or of the pressurization of the manifold system for the propulsion system on the spacecraft was received."

Russian flight controllers attempted to regain control of Progress 59 as the spacecraft made four orbits around Earth, with no success. Late Tuesday, the spacecraft will make another series of passes over Russian ground stations, and flight controllers will resume their recovery work then, Navias said.

Russia's Progress spacecraft are disposable robotic cargo ships that have served as workhorse resupply vehicles for the International Space Station. They have been restocking the station since the first crews took up residence in 2000. In August 2011, a launch malfunction led to the crash of the Progress 44 cargo ship.

If the troubled Progress ship is lost, that's not a show-stopper for the space station — but it means those aboard the orbiting outpost are in for sparse times until another ship can be readied for a supply run. A commercial SpaceX cargo ship delivered more than 2 tons of supplies earlier this month.

— Tariq Malik, Space.com

This is a condensed version of a report from Space.com. Read the full report. Space.com's Calla Cofield contributed to the report, and NBC News provided additional information as well. Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him on Twitter and Google+. Follow Space.com on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.