Tag Archives: Soyuz

Russia launches test smallsat on Soyuz rocket

Russia today successfully launched a test smallsat on a Soyuz rocket.

No information has been released about the test payload, but the link above speculates it is a new lightweight remote sensing design.

This is the second of three launches scheduled for today. China is next, and soon.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings, for the moment:

8 China
5 SpaceX
4 Russia
3 Japan
3 ULA
2 Europe
2 India

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Arianespace successfully places four communications satellites in orbit

Using a Russian Soyuz rocket and launching from French Guiana Arianespace today successfully launched four communications satellites.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

7 China
5 SpaceX
3 Japan
3 ULA
2 Russia
2 Arianespace

For the purpose of these rankings, I consider the Soyuz rocket, launched from French Guiana, an Arianespace vehicle, since it is marketed, assembled, and launched by that company.

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Soyuz launches new crew to ISS

The Russians today launched a new crew to ISS using their Soyuz rocket.

Since the capsule only has to fly to ISS in low Earth orbit, it did not use the Fregat upper stage that failed in another recent Soyuz launch.

This launch probably clinches Russia’s lead over SpaceX for the most successful launches in 2017. At the same time, the U.S. overall will still win handily, with its most total launches in this century.

28 United States
19 Russia
17 SpaceX
15 China

I will be publishing a complete table of the launches with analysis, as I did last year, once the year is complete.

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Lawsuit reveals two customers for Soyuz circumlunar tourist flight

Capitalism in space: A lawsuit against Space Adventures, the company that has previously organized tourist trips to ISS using Russian rockets, has finally revealed the names of the two individuals who had purchased tickets for a circumlunar flight around the Moon using a modified Soyuz capsule.

The details are included in a lawsuit now winding its way through U.S. District Court in Virginia. Harald McPike, a wealth Austrian investor and adventurer who resides in the Bahamas, has sued Space Adventures, its chairman and CEO Eric Anderson, and its president Thomas Shelley seeking to recover the $7 million down payment he put down on the flight in March 2013.

The other lunar tourist? The lawsuit says Space Adventures told McPike that it was Anousheh Ansari, who flew to the International Space Station (ISS) as a tourist in 2006 on a Soyuz in a deal the company brokered with the Russians. Ansari’s family also sponsored the $10 million Ansari X Prize won by Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne in 2004.

The dispute centers on McPike’s realization, after paying $7 million of the $30 million down payment, that Space Adventures probably could not deliver on its promises, mostly because of a Russian reluctance to sent tourists on such a mission. He wants his money back, and Space Adventures doesn’t want to return it.

While several modified Soyuz capsules, called Zond, were sent around the Moon during the 1960s, that was a very long time ago. Configuring the modern Soyuz for such a manned mission would require a lot of work, and I suspect the Russians didn’t want to do it without money up front. Moreover, I’m not even sure that the $300 million from the two tourists would have been sufficient.

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Soyuz launches military satellite, despite failure earlier this week

A Russian Soyuz rocket today successfully launched a military satellite, despite the launch failure from improper software earlier this week.

The reason they launched this Soyuz was because of two reasons. First, it was not using the Fregat upper stage that had had the incorrect programming. Second, it launched from Plesetsk, a Russian spaceport they have used since the beginning of the space age. The failure launched from the new spaceport at Vostochny, with software that had not been updated for that spaceport.

This launch widens the Russian lead in successful launches over SpaceX for 2018. The U.S. however still leads handily overall.

27 United States
18 Russian
16 SpaceX
13 China

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Soyuz failed because it was programmed for Baikonur, not Vostochny

It now appears that the Soyuz rocket failure this week occurred because the Fregat upper stage had not been programmed for a launch from Vostochny.

Although the information is still preliminary, it is increasingly clear that all the hardware aboard the Fregat upper stage performed as planned. But, almost unbelievably, the flight control system on the Fregat did not have the correct settings for the mission originating from the new launch site in Vostochny, as apposed to routine launches from Baikonur and Plesetsk. As a result, as soon as Fregat and its cargo separated from the third stage of the launch vehicle, its flight control system began commanding a change of orientation of the stack to compensate for what the computer had perceived as a deviation from the correct attitude, which was considerable. As a result, when the Fregat began its first preprogrammed main engine firing, the vehicle was apparently still changing its attitude, which led to a maneuvering in a wrong direction. [emphasis mine]

This reminds me of the NASA’s epic failure with Mars Climate Orbiter in 1998, where some programming used the metric system and other programming used the English system, and no one noticed.

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Review of all Soyuz upper stages ordered by Russian manufacturer

According to anonymous sources, the Russian manufacturer of the Freget upper stage that failed yesterday during a Soyuz commercial launch has ordered a review of all Fregets.

The Lavochkin research and production association will check all manufactured Fregat boosters, a source in the space industry told TASS on Wednesday after a recent failed launch. “The Lavochkin Research and Production Association will check all Fregat boosters produced earlier. If defects are found, they [the boosters] will be sent for further development,” the source said.

The Lavochkin Research and Production Association did not comment on this information for TASS.

The problem is that Russia already spent almost a full year beginning in early 2016 checking all its rocket engines for substandard construction done by a corrupt manufacturer. Even though the Fregat is built by another manufacturer, did they not check the Fregat upper stages then also?

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Second Soyuz launch from Vostochny a failure

The second Soyuz rocket launch from Russia’s new spaceport in Vostochny ended in failure this morning due to a problem with the rocket’s upper stage

It is presently unclear what happened. One Russian news report suggests “human error,” though I do not understand exactly what they mean by that. Either way, all 19 satellites, including a new Russian weather satellite and 18 smallsats, were lost.

For Russia, this failure comes at a bad time. Roscosmos had been striving to recover from last year’s recall of all rocket engines due to corruption at one of their factories. A new launch failure, especially if it is due to another engine issue, will not encourage sales from the international market. Worse, the lose of the 18 smallsats on this launch will certainly make future smallsat companies more reluctant to fly on a Russian rocket.

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During its landing in April a manned Soyuz capsule became partially depressurized

During its landing in April a Soyuz capsule carrying three astronauts returning from ISS became partially depressurized at about five miles altitude.

The partial loss of pressure did not put the crew in jeopardy, Stafford said. A valve normally opens once the capsule descends to an altitude of five kilometers to allow outside air into the capsule. The crewmembers were also wearing pressure suits, as is standard procedure on Soyuz landings.

The incident occurred when a buckle from the parachute system hit a welding seam in the capsule as the parachute deployed.

There is a reason the Russians require astronauts to wear pressure suits while in a Soyuz capsule. During the return to Earth in 1971 of three cosmonauts from the first Russian space station, Salyut 1, the capsule depressurized and the three men died of suffocation.

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Russians successfully launch Progress to ISS

After a last minute scrub earlier this week, the Russians this morning successfully used their Soyuz rocket to launch a Progress freighter into orbit, bringing supplies to ISS.

It will take the freighter two days to rendezvous with ISS.

This launch extends the Russian leader over SpaceX for the most launches in 2017 to 17-15.

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Problems with 6 of 72 cubesats launched by Soyuz

Of the 72 cubesats launched by a Russian Soyuz rocket on July 14, 6 have unexpected problems.

Four of the 72 miniature satellites sent into orbit July 14 on a Russian Soyuz 2.1a rocket alongside the primary customer, the Kanopus-V-IK Russian Earth-imaging satellite, are not responding to commands from their operators and two additional cubesats are not in their intended orbits.

It appears that a variety of causes are behind the problems, not all of which are related to the Soyuz.

Posted from Torrey, Utah, just outside Capitol Reef.

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Soyuz successfully launches 73 satellites

A Russian Soyuz rocket today successfully launched a government Earth observation satellite, Kanopus-V-IK, as well as 72 cubesats.

The Russians continue their recovery from the year-long pause in launches due to corruption in one of their rocket engine factories that required the recall of almost all of the upper stage engines used in the Proton and Soyuz rockets.

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Russia offers Soyuz capsule for tourist flights, even after it is replaced

Capitalism in space: The Russian company that makes the Soyuz capsule has announced that it intends to continue flying the capsule, even after the new Federation replacement capsule is operational.

“I think that the Soyuz has the right to continue its life. As long as there exists a space tourism market and this spacecraft enjoys confidence, this all should be used as essential components,” the CEO said. Energiya is also considering the possibility to upgrade the Soyuz for circumlunar missions. “If we manage to do it faster, we will have a chance to perfect important systems on it, that will be further used on the Federation,” Solntsev noted.

Energiya is now part of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and is controlled by the government. Thus, for it to do this will still require government approval. Will the Russian government allow the old capsule to exist when the new one begins flying? That would be a form of competition, something Russia hasn’t really encouraged since the fall of the Soviet Union. We shall see.

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Russia moves to capture the smallsat launch market

Glavkosmos, a division in Roscosmos, Russia’s nationalized aerospace industry, is working to capture a large part of the new smallsat launch industry.

Glavkosmos, a subsidiary of Russian state space corporation Roscosmos, said June 14 that it will launch 72 small satellites as secondary payloads on the Soyuz-2.1a launch of the Kanopus-V-IK remote sensing satellite, scheduled for July 14 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Vsevolod Kryukovskiy, launch program director at Glavkosmos, said in a June 19 interview that the smallsat customers for that launch come from the United States, Germany, Japan, Canada, Norway and Russia. He declined to identify specific customers, although he said they include both companies and universities. The spacecraft range in size from single-unit cubesats up to a 120-kilogram microsatellite. “We’ll do the most technically challenging cluster mission ever,” he said. The satellites will be deployed into three separate orbits, after which the rocket’s upper stage will perform a deorbit maneuver.

Kryukovskiy said Glavkosmos is also arranging the launch of secondary payloads on two Soyuz launches planned for December from the new Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East region. “We’ll have about 40 microsats that we’ll launch from Vostochny, and that will be the first international launch from this new Russian cosmodrome,” he said.

These numbers are in the same range as when India launched 103 smallsats on a single rocket, and suggest that Russia is trying to grab the market share that the new small rocket companies are aiming at.

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Truck driver killed in fire related to crash of Soyuz stage in Kazakhstan

A truck driver has died in an effort to extinguish a fire related to the crash in Kazakhstan of the stages from the Soyuz rocket that earlier this week launched a Progress freighter to ISS.

This story does not indicate any failure on Russia’s part during the launch. What it does highlight is the problematic location of their Baikonur spaceport, which requires expendable first stages to crash on land. In fact, this incident also suggests it wise for the Russians, and the Kazakhstans, to consider developing recoverable first stages that can land in a controlled manner, as SpaceX has, in order to make this spaceport more useful and safer.

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Russians successfully launch Progress to ISS

A Russian Soyuz rocket successfully launched a Progress freighter to ISS early today.

That’s the second Russian launch in less than a week, after a very long pause caused by the discovery of corruption in one of their major engine factories. Though the Russians presently only have two launches scheduled for July, and none scheduled for August, I suspect that this will change in their effort to clear their launch backlog.

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Russia completes first military launch in a year

Russia today successfully launched a military payload on a Soyuz rocket, ending a year long gap in such launches due to the discovery of faulty and corrupt practices at rocket engine manufacturing facilities.

The lull in activity has in part been down to manufacturing defects and quality control issues affecting Russia’s production of rocket engines. A contractor was found to have been using cheaper materials in place of precious metals in alloys used to make parts of the engines. Seventy-one Proton engines and a number of Soyuz engines were recalled for inspection and repair.

Reliability concerns have lingered around Russia’s launch fleet in recent years, with Proton failing ten times since 2007 and Soyuz experiencing seven failures in the last eight years. Two Rokots and a Zenit have also failed in the last decade, while Russia’s flagship Fobos-Grunt mission to Mars never left low Earth orbit after the spacecraft itself malfunctioned.

In 2016, Russia experienced just one launch failure – with a Soyuz-U rocket suffering a third stage failure during December’s attempted launch of the Progress MS-04 vehicle to resupply the International Space Station. Despite this, there were two near-misses: a Soyuz-2-1b underperformed during the launch of a GLONASS navigation satellite last May, and the Proton launch in June suffered a second stage engine failure. In both cases the rockets’ upper stages – Fregat-M and Briz-M respectively – were able to alter their flight plans and inject the satellites into their planned orbits despite the anomalies.

They hope to resume Proton flights next month. Either way, it looks likely that in 2017 Russia will launch the fewest rockets in decades.

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Russia responds to SpaceX reused booster success

A bunch of stories from Russia today appear to express that country’s political response to SpaceX’s success yesterday in launching a commercial satellite using a previously flown first stage.

It appears that these stories are quoting a variety of Russian officials who apparently did not get their stories straight. Also, it appears that much of what they are saying here is pure bluster. For example, in the third link the official makes the silly claim that the ability of their rocket engines to be started and then restarted repeatedly proves they are dedicated to re-usability. And the first two links don’t provide much back-up for the claims that they can complete with SpaceX, especially since SpaceX presently charges a third less than they do per launch, and that is using new boosters. With reused boosters SpaceX’s launch fees will be less than half what Russia has been charging for a Proton launch ($90 million vs $40 million).

Similarly, the claim that they will complete 30 launches this years is absurd. They won’t be able to launch Proton until May, at the soonest, because of the need to remove defective parts from all of their in-stock engines. Soyuz launches are similarly delayed while they check its engines also. To complete 30 launches in only seven months seems very unrealistic to me, especially since the best they have done in a full year this century is 34 launches, with an average slightly less than 30 per year.

Nonetheless, this spate of stories and statements by Russian officials shows that they are feeling the heat of competition, and also feel a need to respond. The first story has this significant statement:

Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos is responding to the challenges with available possibilities, he added. “It has announced a considerable reduction in the cost of Proton rocket launches. The commercial price of this rocket’s launch is considerably higher than its prime cost and we have the potential for the price cut. But customers are giving up our services because the number of payloads [satellites] remains unchanged and does not grow. Correspondingly, a new player on the market snatches away a part of orders,” the expert noted.

Because of Russia’s low labor costs they have always had a large profit margin on their Proton launches. The $90 million they charged was set just below what Arianespace charged for its launches. It appears they are now planning to lower their prices further to match SpaceX.

Posted from the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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