Battery screw-up delays Russian X-Ray telescope launch

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The Russians this morning postponed today’s launch of the Spectr-RG X-Ray space telescope until July when it was discovered that one of the payload’s batteries had been drained prematurely.

[T]he Moskovsky Komsomolets tabloid reported from Baikonur that the problem had been discovered at least a day earlier, but the entire project team at the launch site was kept in the dark until the launch date, not to interfere with Vladimir Putin’s annual press-conference.

According to the paper, the battery was accidentally activated on the launch pad instead of the planned moment after the separation of the spacecraft from the Block DM-03 upper stage. The error was blamed on the erroneous wiring setup by RKK Energia specialists (Block DM-03 prime contractor) between the upper stage and the spacecraft, which caused a complete drainage of the battery designed to be re-charged from solar panels. After the return of the rocket to the vehicle assembly building, the battery would have to be re-charged and the power-supply system re-wired, Moskovsky Komsomolets said. [emphasis mine]

If this report is true, it appears that the Russian government has done nothing to fix the quality control programs in its aerospace industry, and in fact is helping to contribute to them by playing games with launch procedures for the sake of its own public relations.



  • Edward

    The irony is that Putin insists that the quality control problems be fixed, but they allowed politics about a Putin press-conference exacerbate a quality control problem.

    The good news is that they caught the problem before launch, which would likely have resulted in the loss of the spacecraft. The bad news is that they didn’t catch the miswired harness long ago during spacecraft (or rocket) testing.

    It would be bad enough if the drawings were incorrect, but if the technicians miswired the harness, then there is a serious problem because a simple test comparing continuity of the harness to the drawing would have discovered the problem immediately after the harness was built and before it was installed on the rocket or spacecraft.

    If the drawings were incorrect, then it is a communication problem between the upper stage manufacturer and the spacecraft manufacturer. This is similar to what happened to Mars Climate Orbiter, a couple of decades ago.

  • Edward

    I meant the comparison to be the miscommunication rather than faulty assembly.

    However, it all demonstrates the unforgiving nature of space travel. Few situations on Earth are quite as unforgiving. Air travel and submarine travel tend to require great care, because small mistakes there, too, can quickly result in disaster, but a problem in a car, for instance, may only require that we pull over to the side of the road and call for help.

    I probably should have emphasized more the politics that interfered with the launch. The report does not give me a warm and fuzzy feeling about how Russia is dealing with its quality problems, and it seems that they let political considerations get in their way. This is not only the opposite of what they need, but it is the opposite of what Putin himself has demanded.

    It seems to me that they are having problems at a higher rate than they used to and at a higher rate than the U.S. Perhaps we only noticed under Putin’s watch, or maybe this has been a problem since the days of the Soviet Union. No matter the timeline or the root cause, Russia’s launch industry has definitely lost the faith of much of the satellite owners and operators, which is a problem if Russia wants its space industry to be prestigious and a revenue generator. Politics should be helping, here, not hindering.

  • Col Beausabre

    In the days of Stalin, someone would have been shot, tovarisch.

    Like the British Admiralty of the 1750’s, he believed in a few executions to accomplish what Voltaire termed “Pour L’Encourage les Autres”

    In WW2 production of the IL-2 “Shturmovik” ground attack aircraft fell in the Winter of 1941-42. He sent the following cable to the factory, “You have let down our country and our Red Army. You have the nerve not to manufacture IL-2s until now. Our Red Army now needs IL-2 aircraft like the air it breathes, like the bread it eats. Shenkman produces one IL-2 a day and Tretyakov builds one or two MiG-3s daily. It is a mockery of our country and the Red Army. I ask you not to try the government’s patience, and demand that you manufacture more IL’s. This is my final warning”

    “This my final warning” from Stalin, would put the fear of God in you – even in an officially atheist country. Production jumped – as a matter of fact, at something like 36,000 airframes, it holds the record for the biggest production run in history (In the US, the B-24 with 18,000 units holds the national record. At the height of production in 1944, Ford – Willow Run was cranking out one every 50 minutes!)

    I’m just amazed he sent a cable instead of a team from the NKVD.

  • wayne

    Col Beausabre-
    Good stuff.

    “Enemy at the Gates”
    Nikita Khrushchev scene

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