Tag Archives: Soyuz

NASA buys Soyuz seats from Boeing

NASA has purchased two additional seats from Boeing on a Russian Soyuz capsule and rocket to get astronauts to ISS beyond 2019.

The reason Boeing was able to sell Russian Soyuz seats is because they have obtained them from the Russians in a deal to settle Boeing’s $320 million lawsuit over ending the Russian/Boeing Sea Launch partnership.

Soyuz launches successfully from French Guiana

A Russian Soyuz rocket, built for Arianespace and launched from French Guiana, successfully placed a commercial satellite in geosynchronous orbit on Friday.

The launch has some significance. First, it was the first time a Soyuz rocket placed a payload into geosynchronous orbit. Second, the payload was the first satellite built by a German company in more than 25 years

Finally, and most important, it demonstrated that at least one configuration of the Soyuz rocket is still operational as Russia investigates the corrupt practices at the company that has been building upper stage engines for both its Soyuz and Proton rockets.

Update: Russia has revealed that this on-going investigation will now delay the next Proton rocket launch for 3.5 months. This means that launch will occur sometime in May, and will occur just weeks short of a full year after the last Proton launch on June 9, 2016.

Newly discovered quality control problems ground Russia’s Proton

Confirmed: As a result of its investigation into the problems during a June 9, 2016 launch, Roscosmos has now grounded its Proton rocket for at least the next six months due to the discovery of systemic quality control problems throughout the entire Proton construction process.

On January 23, the Kazakh-based division of the Interfax news agency reported the likelihood of an unusually lengthy delay with Proton missions, which could last several months. A day later, the Kommersant newspaper reported that a recent firing test had revealed technical problems with RD-0210 and RD-0212 engines, which propel the second and third stage of the Proton rocket respectively. The failure of the engine was reportedly traced to illegal replacement of precious heat-resistant alloys within the engine’s components with less expensive but failure-prone materials. The report in the Kommersant echoed the results of the investigation into the 2015 Proton failure, which found that low-quality material in the turbo-pump shaft of the engine had led to the accident.

On Jan. 20, 2017, Head of Roskosmos Igor Komarov chaired a meeting of the top managers at the Voronezh Mechanical Plant, VMZ, which manufactures rocket engines, including those used on the third stage of the Soyuz rocket and on the second and third stages of Proton. The high-profile meeting followed a decision to return already manufactured RD-0110 engines from Soyuz rockets back to Voronezh, after such an engine had been suspected as the culprit in the loss of the Progress MS-04 cargo ship on Dec. 1, 2016, as it ascended to orbit onboard a Soyuz-U rocket. [emphasis mine]

The worst part of this story, from an American perspective, is that it might result in a complete grounding of Russia’s entire rocket fleet, since some of these issues involve the Soyuz rocket as well. All manned flights to ISS will stop, which might force us to abandon it for a time.

Read the article. It suggests that Russia’s space industry is now in big big trouble.

Update: The Russians are replacing the entire Soyuz capsule that they had planned to use for the March manned mission to ISS.

“Spaceship No. 734 may be replaced by spacecraft No. 735 over a leak in the descent module [of the 734th space vehicle]. This is not yet known for sure. The spacecraft will be returned for a check,” the source said.

Boeing obtains available seats on Soyuz as result of Sea Launch settlement

As part of Boeing’s settlement with Russia over the break-up of their Sea Launch partnership, the company has obtained rights to several manned Soyuz seats that are available because the Russians have cut back on the number of astronauts they are flying to ISS.

In turn, Boeing is offering these seats to NASA.

[John Elbon, vice president and general manager of space exploration at Boeing] said he expects NASA to make enter into negotiations with Boeing about the 2017 and 2018 seats shortly after a Jan. 27 deadline for companies to respond to the sources sought statement, a requirement when a government agency proposes a sole-source procurement. “Assuming that goes well, I think we would sit down and, in relatively short order, negotiate the details of this kind of arrangement,” he said.

He didn’t specify how much Boeing was proposing to charge NASA for the seats. The agency announced an agreement with Roscosmos in August 2015 for six Soyuz seats in 2018 at a total cost of $490 million, or $81.7 million per seat. “It’s a good value for NASA and the taxpayer,” Elbon said of Boeing’s proposed deal with NASA. “We wouldn’t ask them to pay more than they would have been paying before.”

What is happening here is that Boeing is trying to use these Soyuz seats as a way to recoup its losses from Sea Launch. The problem is that NASA doesn’t really need the manned flights in 2017 and 2018. They might need them in 2019, should the manned capsules that SpaceX and Boeing are building get delayed, but I am not sure that this deal will allow them to be used at that time.

Russians complete investigation into Progress launch failure

The news is not really good.

According to Roskosmos, the accident led to the unplanned separation between the third stage of the launch vehicle and the spacecraft. Members of the commission established that the most probable cause of the accident had been the disintegration of the oxidizer tank of the third stage as a result of the failure of the 11D55 engine, following the fire and disintegration of its oxidizer pump, Roskosmos said. The fire in the pump and its disintegration could be triggered by a possible injection of the foreign particles into the pump’s cavity or by violations during the assembly of the 11D55 engine, such as a wrong clearance between the pump’s shaft and its attachment sleeve, floating rings and impellers, leading to a possible loss of balance and vibration of the rotor.

The fault, which has a production nature, manifested itself during the flight, Roskosmos said. The State Corporation promised to prepare a plan of immediate action at enterprises of the the rocket industry to ensure the safe launch of the Progress MS-05 spacecraft, Roskosmos announced. [emphasis mine]

It appears that though they have not definitely established what went wrong (due to a lack of telemetry), they have determined that all of the possible causes are related to quality control issues.

Update into into Dec 1 Progress failure investigation

The Russian investigation into the December 1 launch failure of a Progress freighter has come up with two possible causes, both centered on the third stage of the Soyuz rocket.

According to one theory some unforeseen dynamic loads on the tank’s structure were exacerbated by low-quality welding of the tank and led to its rupture.

Another hypothesis presumed that an anomalous operation of the RD-011o engine, (as a result of higher-than-normal vibrations in its bearings or in its turbopump), could apply unforeseen loads onto the aft bulkhead of the oxidizer tank, which is located right above the engine.

Both scenarios were based on theoretical assumptions and could not be proven without doubt due to lack of telemetry.

It appears that they might be delaying any further manned launches while they evaluate the third stages of rockets intended for future flights.

Russia Progress freighter lost during launch

Due to what appears to be the failure of the third stage of its Soyuz rocket, a Russian Progress freighter bringing supplies to ISS was lost.

The Russian space agency — Roscosmos — confirmed the demise of the Progress MS-04 cargo craft in a statement, saying the automated spaceship was lost as it flew nearly 120 miles (190 kilometers) over the Tuva Republic in Southern Russia. Engineers lost telemetry during the Soyuz rocket’s third stage engine burn, and most of the vehicle’s fragments burned up in the atmosphere, Roscosmos said.

The consequences of this failure are numerous:

  • The cargo failures to ISS have been a continuing problem. Despite significant redundancy, every single cargo freighter has had failures or delays in the past two years.
  • The failure of the Soyuz rocket is a major concern, since this is the rocket that we depend on to bring humans to ISS. Nor is this the first time this year that the third stage had issues. In May the third stage cut off prematurely.
  • This failure, combined with the other quality control problems Russia has experienced in the past few years with the Soyuz capsule and the Proton rocket, adds to the concerns.

It now becomes even more imperative for the U.S. to get its own manned spacecraft capability back.

Russia and ESA in money dispute

A money dispute between Russia and France could threaten the ESA/Russian ExoMars partnership, as well as the Arianespace deal that launches Soyuz rockets from French Guiana.

In what appears to be an attempt to force France’s European neighbors to apply pressure to Paris, Roscosmos hinted that multiple cooperative space efforts between Russian and the European Union, and with the European Space Agency (ESA), could suffer if the payments are not freed. The payments, which are not disputed by Arianespace, have been one of the collateral effects of the battle by former shareholders of Russia’s Yukos oil company. In 2014, these shareholders won an initial award of $50 billion from an international arbitration panel in The Hague, Netherlands, against the Russian government for dismantling the company.

Since then, the shareholders have been trying to collect Russian government assets wherever they find a sympathetic legal environment outside Russia, including France and Belgium. In France, different shareholder representatives sought seizure of the Eutelsat and Arianespace payments. The same dispute has blocked payments to other Russian companies. Paris-based satellite operator Eutelsat owes Russia’s biggest satellite operator, Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC) of Moscow, around $300 million for services related to Eutelsat use of RSCC satellites.

Russia needs cash, which is why they need their partnership with Arianespace, which has brought them a lot of cash over time. Their problem is that the money owed the Yukos oil company shareholders has allowed those shareholders to put liens on any Russian earnings in Europe, which has only increased Russia’s financial bind. If Russia can’t get its hands on its Arianespace earnings, then it really makes no sense for them to continue the partnership. Better to threaten to pull out with the hope that the threat will maybe force payment.

Moreover, Russia might also be realizing that it cannot at present afford to participate in ExoMars and is looking for a way to get out of that commitment. This money dispute gives them that out.

No more manned Soyuz purchased by NASA after 2019

The competition heats up: Both Boeing and SpaceX better get their manned capsules working by 2019, because NASA at this point has no plans to buy more seats on Russian Soyuz capsules after the present contract runs out.

Even as the commercial crew schedules move later into 2018, NASA officials say they are not considering extending the contract with Roscosmos — the Russian space agency — for more launches in 2019. The last Soyuz launch seats reserved for U.S. astronauts are at the end of 2018.

It takes more than two years to procure components and assemble new Soyuz capsules, so Russia needed to receive new Soyuz orders from NASA by some time this fall to ensure the spacecraft would be ready for liftoff in early 2019.

The second paragraph above notes that even if NASA decided it needed more Soyuz launches, it is probably too late to buy them and have them available by 2019.

Russia to break safety rules to repair Soyuz capsule

In order to replace a burnt capsule quickly in its Soyuz capsule, Russia will ignore its own safety rules and allow the engineers to work without draining the capsule of its propellants and gases.

Sources close to investigation told RussianSpaceWeb.com that a cable located behind the cosmonaut seats inside the Descent Module of the Vehicle No. 732 had accidentally been bent severely enough to damage its insulation. As it turned out, the problem had nothing to do with the encapsulation of the spacecraft inside its payload fairing on September 15, as was initially thought.

Replacing the damaged cable is relatively straight forward, but it now has to be conducted on the vehicle fully loaded with toxic propellants and pressurized gases. Such an attempt would violate usual safety rules, but draining the spacecraft off its propellants and gases would likely be even more unprecedented and require lengthy repairs.

The big issue here is not the willingness of Roscosmos management to break its safety rules. In fact, believe it or not, those rules are possibly too strict. The repairs are taking place inside the capsule where the astronauts sit. If it is too dangerous for engineers to be there with the capsule fueled, then it would be too dangerous for the astronauts. Granted, engineers don’t usually sign up for those kinds of dangers, but then, if you are an engineer in the field of rocket science I suspect you did sign up, and expect them.

No, what is significant about this story is the bent cable and its damaged insulation, which was bad enough that the cable actually burnt, based on other reports. It suggests a variety of issues in the construction of this capsule, all of which are worrisome. First and foremost, how is it possible for insulation to break simply by bending a cable? Is the insulation that badly made? Or have they such low tolerances for the insulation (possibly to save weight) that it requires a very careful installation that in this case was done badly?

This is also only the second launch of an upgraded Soyuz capsule. Could it be that they haven’t worked out all the kinks in its design? If not, they have been making Soyuz capsules for literally decades. One would think that the people that install this wiring would know its tolerances and not make such a mistake.

I know I am being somewhat harsh here, but that harshness comes after seeing repeated quality control problems in a variety of Russian-built aerospace hardware in recent years. In the previous cases, however, the problems did not involve a manned flight. This one did, and if those same quality control problems are now showing up with Soyuz, that is a very bad thing.

Russian engineers locate short circuit problem on Soyuz

Russian engineers have now located the short circuit that scrubbed this week’s manned Soyuz launch to ISS.

The official added that there would be no need dismantling the space carrier to fix the detected problem “as we will replace certain parts and then conduct the required tests before the launch.” Solntsev also said that the required spare parts to fix the malfunction and specialists to carry out the repair works were already present at the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan, where the spacecraft was scheduled to take off.

Though the repair will be quick to fix, they are still sticking with the November 1st launch date, probably because any earlier slot is now taken by Orbital ATK’s Antares/Cygnus launch.

Update: The wording of a new report today, one day later than the report above, describing the problem as “a burnt cable”, is intriguing. A short circuit implies that they sensed some of the circuitry was not reading correctly and that some wiring had to be inspected and either rerouted or given more insulation. A “burnt cable” however suggests the short circuit was far worse and almost turned into a fire.

Manned Soyuz launch delayed until November

Roscosmos today confirmed that the short circuit discovered during prelaunch tests will delay the launch of a manned Soyuz to ISS until November.

Though they still have not described the problem in any detail, this article gives some insight:

According to industry sources, the delay was caused by a short circuit, which took place during roll-on of the payload fairing, which protects the spacecraft during its ascent through the atmosphere. The problem was not detected until the vehicle had been rotated back to a vertical position and was being prepared for the second fit check at Site 254 in Baikonur. The situation was complicated by the fact that engineers could not immediately identify the location of the short circuit in the fully assembled spacecraft. Preliminary estimates indicated that such an issue inside the descent module, SA, could require several weeks to fix, however if the problem was in the instrument module, PAO, it could take several months to resolve.

In worst case scenario, mission officials might decide to replace the Soyuz vehicle No. 732, which was affected by the problem, with Vehicle No. 733 originally intended for the Soyuz MS-03 mission. According to the official Russian media, the launch of the Soyuz MS-02 might be postponed until at least the beginning of October.

Russia postpones September 23 manned Soyuz launch

For unexplained “technical reasons” Russia has postponed the manned launch of three astronauts to ISS on Friday, September 23.

“Roscosmos decided to postpone launch of the spacecraft Soyuz MS-02, scheduled for September 23, 2016, due to technical reasons after control testing at the Baikonur space center [in Kazakhstan],” the statement said.

Russia delays next manned Soyuz flight

Russia has confirmed previous reports and has officially delayed the next manned Soyuz launch to ISS from June 24 to July 7.

They remain vague about the issue causing the delay, this time only saying they want more time to test software. Previous reports suggested the issue was with the capsule’s control thrusters.

Meanwhile, no word on whether they have figured out why the upper stage on the previous Soyuz rocket launch shut down prematurely.

Manned Soyuz launch delayed

More Russian quality control issues? The next manned launch to ISS has been delayed for a week because of an issue with the capsule’s control thrusters.

The article is lacking in any details, though it appears that the Soyuz capsule’s system for controlling its roll is the source of the problem. This issue, on top of the fact that the most recent Soyuz rocket launch last week had an unexplained premature engine shutdown, should make everyone a bit nervous about the reliability and safety of the Russian manned system.

First launch from Vostochny a success

The competition heats up: After more than a decade of construction and more than $6 billion, the new Russian spaceport succeeded in its first rocket launch in the early morning hours of April 28, sending three satellites into Earth orbit.

Several news stories have said that Putin was not happy about the one day launch delay due to a computer issue, as well as the one day delay of a Soyuz launch in French Guiana earlier in the week.

Meanwhile, don’t expect any further launches at Vostochny for a long time. The spaceport really isn’t ready for regular operations. This launch was merely a face-saving gesture to disguise the fact that construction is really more than a year behind schedule, not three months.

First Vostochny launch scrubbed at T-1.5

The first launch at Russia’s new Vostochny spaceport yesterday was aborted by its computers at T-1.5 minutes.

The head of Russia’s Roscosmos, Igor Komarov, said the launch was halted automatically due to the glitches of the automated control system. He said the system may be restored in a day. “As usual, the responsibility for what is happening in the space sector rests with those people who are in charge of it and head it,” Komarov added.

I love how governments and their minions always use the word “glitch” when the really haven’t the slightest idea what went wrong.

Regardless, based on their plans to try again tomorrow, I suspect that the problem was relatively simple, related to the computer sensing some parameter that was outside expected tolerances, and easily fixed.

Soyuz rocket launch scrubbed due to faulty IMU

Uh-oh: A Soyuz rocket launch from French Guiana was scrubbed an hour before launch on Sunday because of detected problems with the inertial measurement unit (IMU) in its navigational system.

Arianespace chief executive Stephane Israel tweeted Sunday that the faulty inertial measurement unit, or IMU, will be replaced overnight in time for a launch attempt Monday. The IMU is located on the Soyuz rocket’s third stage and is used to determine the heading and orientation of the vehicle in the first nine minutes of its mission, feeding critical attitude data to the launcher’s guidance computers, which transmit steering commands to the engines.

The venerable Soyuz booster flies more often than any other launcher in the world, and delays due to technical causes are rare. [emphasis mine]

This is not good news for Russia’s aerospace industry, as it suggests that the quality control problems Russia has experienced with the company that manufactures its Proton rocket are now beginning to appear with the different company that manufactures the Soyuz rocket.

If true, this is also very bad news for American astronauts, who must use this rocket to get to and from space.

Cause of Soyuz docking problems pinpointed

The failure of a Soyuz capsule to dock automatically with ISS last week is now attributed to a software problem that failed to provide the right commands to the spacecraft’s thrusters.

The problem has now been linked by the Russian press to three different causes. I wonder if they actually have any idea at all, or are simply throwing out red herrings in order to distract everyone from noticing the problem at all.

Soyuz docking issue during ISS arrival

When the manned Soyuz rendezvoused and docked with ISS yesterday, there was a problem with the automatic docking system, requiring the astronauts to take over and manually dock the spacecraft.

Initial reports suggested the failure was with the radar system having a conflict with the communications systems on the berthed Cygnus capsule. The link above instead claims the failure was caused by a malfunction in one of the Soyuz attitude thrusters. The former would be annoying but less of a concern than the latter. A thruster malfunction is somewhat rare, and would be another indication of the serious quality control problems in the Russian aerospace industry.

Russia testing upgraded Soyuz capsule

The competition heats up: Russian engineers have begun testing new equipment to be installed in an upgraded version of their manned Soyuz capsule.

The plan to test fly the new avionics on a Progress freighter before installing them in upgraded manned Soyuz, which they hope to fly in about six months.

Soyuz capsule maneuvers to avoid space junk

The manned Soyuz capsule bringing three astronauts to ISS was forced to make a maneuver this morning to avoid a collision with a fragment from a Japanese rocket launched in 1989.

While space junk is an increasing problem, for a object to threaten a manned capsule making maneuvers in low Earth orbit is extremely rare. It appears from the story however that U.S. and Russian trackers thought there was a very good chance of an actual collision and took action to avoid it.

Russia accelerating development of Soyuz replacement

The competition heats up: The head of Energia, the Russian company that builds the Soyuz capsule, said this week at a space conference near Moscow that they are going to accelerate construction of a prototype of a next generation replacement, capable of launch four astronauts.

We have agreed with the engineers…. to reduce the time for construction and production of the first copy of this spaceship. Despite the fact that we have voiced and agreed on the first launch in 2021, we have set the task to build the prototype by 2019, and I think that we will succeed, ” Solntsev told reporters at the MAKS.

Take this with a grain of salt. Energia has proposed a number of different Soyuz replacements since 2000, none of which ever saw the light of day. At the same time, the situation in Russia has changed, and the government is now committed to financing a robust space program. Previously, Energia had to find private investment capital, which never arrived because, I think, investors did not trust the legal situation in Russia. They had no way of guaranteeing that they would own their shares. In fact, the recent take-over and consolidation of Russia’s entire aerospace industry by the government has proven those investor doubts entirely right.

At the same time, the increased competition in the launch industry and this government takeover might signal something real is finally going to happen.

OneWeb awards major launch contracts

The competition heats up: OneWeb today announced it had raised a half billion dollars in investment capital, and has also awarded two major launch contracts, one to the Arianespace/Russian Soyuz partnership and the other to Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne.

The Soyuz gets 21 launches while LauncherOne gets 39. For Virgin Galactic this contract might save the company, as their effort to fly tourists on SpaceShipOne has badly stalled. The effort to build LauncherOne, however, seems to be gaining steam.

Russia announces revised launch schedule for ISS

As promised, the Russians today revealed their revised schedule of launches for ISS for the next few months.

The next manned launch will be on July 3, and though it will use a Soyuz rocket, it will not use the upgraded rocket version that had a conflict with its Progress freighter during the April launch. They have still not described what that conflict was, or how they plan to fix it on future launches.

Meanwhile, a Soyuz capsule docked to ISS suddenly fired its thrusters unexpectedly during testing of the station’s radio system. The burn changed the station’s orientation, which required other thrusters to compensate.

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