Tag Archives: Soyuz

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.

Russia completes Soyuz launchpad at Vostochny

The competition heats up: Russia has completed assembly of the Soyuz-2 launch system at Vostochny a month ahead of schedule.

I must say that this story confuses me. Just this past weekend it was reported in the Russian press that they were abandoning efforts to build a Soyuz launchpad for manned flights at Vostochny and would instead focus on Angara. Why then are they finishing this Soyuz-2 launchpad now, and ahead of schedule?

One theory: The new launchpad might be for a new upgraded Soyuz rocket to be used for unmanned missions and thus different than the manned launchpad.

Or it might be that even though the government canceled it, workers continued to work on it and finished it, unaware of the cancellation. It is not unusual in big government projects for the right hand to not know what the left hand is doing.

UPDATE: My first theory was correct. Anatoly Zak of russianspaceweb.com has confirmed to me in an email that they only cancelled manned Soyuz flights at Vostochny. This launchpad will be used for an upgraded Soyuz rocket for unmanned flights.

Soyuz rocket to launch this week

In the heat of competition: Despite releasing very vague conclusions to its Soyuz rocket failure investigation, the Russians are going to resume Soyuz launches, beginning this week.

Update: The launch on Friday was successful.

I imagine that NASA will insist on more details before the next manned flight, including how they have solved the flaw that caused the Soyuz/Progress failure. At least, that is what a private company would do. What a government agency will do is sometimes beyond my understanding.

Angara to launch commercial payload on next launch

The competition heats up: Russia has decided to accelerate use of its heavy Angara rocket by launching a commercial payload on its next launch in 2016.

They had initially planned to do more test flights. The technical problems with Proton, combined with increased competition from SpaceX and others, is forcing them to move at a less leisurely pace.

In the meantime, they have concluded their investigation into the Progress/Soyuz rocket failure, issuing an incredibly vague press release that only stated the following:

The damage to the ship during its abnormal separation from the third stage of the Soyuz-2-1a launch vehicle resulted from a particular property of the joint use of the cargo spacecraft and the launch vehicle. This design property was related to frequency and dynamic characteristics of joint vehicles. This design property was not fully accounted for during the development of the rocket and spacecraft complex.

Limitations on further flights of the Soyuz-2-1a rocket with other spacecraft had not been found.

It sounds to me as if they don’t know exactly what caused the abnormal separation between the rocket and the spacecraft, and that they have decided to move on regardless.

I think it would be very wise for the U.S. to get its own manned spacecraft operational as fast as possible.

The Russian investigation into Progress failure stalled?

Internal disagreements appear to be hampering the investigation into the Progress launch failure in late April.

The investigation had been leaning to pinning the failure on the disintegration of the Soyuz third stage oxygen tank. Others, however, are now claiming that the disintegration itself was caused by an improper separation of Progress from the rocket. The result is that the investigation has delayed the release of its findings.

Corruption in the Russian space industry

A slew of stories in the Russian press today illustrate again the deeply ingrained problems that country has, both in corruption and in its ability to produce a quality product.

The last story describes the overall scale of the corruption, which is not confined just to the space sector, but can be found in many industries. The aerospace industry just happens to be the most visible outside Russia, and thus the most embarrassing. Yet,
» Read more

Russians confirm flip of Progress and Soyuz launches

It’s official: The launch of the next crew to ISS will be delayed until late July to allow both a Progress freighter to launch first as well as give investigators more time to figure out what went wrong with the Soyuz upper stage during last month’s Progress launch.

In addition, the crew that had been slated to return to Earth this week will remain on board for another month to reduce the amount of time the station is manned with only 3 astronauts.

It appears that investigation is zeroing in on the upper stage of the Soyuz rocket, whose tanks apparently depressurized prematurely, causing the freighter to separate early and end up in an incorrect orbit.

Russian sources confirm their plan to flip launches to ISS

Though not yet officially decided, managers in the Russian space agency are definitely considering switching the launch dates of the next Soyuz and Progress missions to ISS, so that the unmanned cargo flight flies first.

Both spacecraft use the Soyuz rocket, and it now appears that the cause of last week’s Progress failure was a problem in the Soyuz third stage. They want to check out all Soyuz third stages before they put any humans on one. Switching the flights gives them time to do it. It also gets needed cargo to ISS sooner.

Progress failure causes delay in next manned mission to ISS

Russian sources suggest that they will postpone the next manned mission to ISS from May 26 to June 11 as they investigate the failure of the Progress freighter last week.

This article also suggests that the Russians might flip the next Progress and Soyuz flights to have the Progress go first. (This schedule change is something I suggested might happen last week, right after the launch failure.)

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