Tag Archives: Soyuz

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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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