How Russia’s next ISS module got contaminated


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Russia’s next module for ISS, MLM or Nauka, has been delayed years because of the discovery of sawdust sized metal particles throughout the module’s propulsion system. This article describes how this happened, showing the incredibly incompetence and bad quality control that caused it.

At the time, workers at Khrunichev were cutting pipelines and removing other components of the module’s propulsion system, in order to reconfigure it from its original role as a backup to the Zarya FGB module into the MLM. For example, a set of six tanks, which would be used for refueling of the ISS during the FGB mission, were removed from the exterior of the spacecraft in order to make room for scientific instruments and for the attachment of the European Robotic Arm, ERA.

The official conclusion of the probe said that the contamination had stemmed from the “lack of methodological and technological support for the operations of cutting pipeline connections in the pneumatic and hydraulic system, PGS, which was needed to guarantee the meeting of requirements for ensuring the sterility of the internal cavities in the pipelines and system hardware.” It is essentially bureaucratic speak for letting metallic dust formed during sawing off the lines pour into the interior of the remaining components.

According to one legend circulating at GKNPTs Khrunichev, the workers who were sawing off pipelines from the module thought they were dismantling the entire spacecraft for scrap. That story would sound completely unbelievable if not for other almost as incredible incidents of carelessness, poor quality control and incompetence within the industry in recent years, such as the installing navigation sensors on a Proton rocket in the upside down position or loading a Block DM-03 space tug on another Proton with too much propellant.

Read the whole story. It is most revealing of the overall systematic problems within Russia’s aerospace industry.

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One comment

  • Gealon

    Mmm, I seem to recall speculating some months ago that the “Saw dust” likely came from work on the propulsion system plumbing. I can’t remember the tone with which I might have phrased the speculation and the article has sense been buried in the archives, but I imine I was indicating that it would be all manner of unprofessional to simply take a hack saw to a piece of flight hardware. Any plumbing work should be done with the tubing removed from the spacecraft, the required milling performed and then the tubing cleaned before installation. How a rough cut piece of tubing ended up just getting slapped into this module is simply dumbfounding.

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