Problems with 6 of 72 cubesats launched by Soyuz

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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.


One comment

  • Edward

    The extent of the problem seems to be getting worse:
    At least eight of the nine cubesats sent by the Russian Soyuz 2.1a rocket into a 600-kilometer orbit July 14 alongside a larger spacecraft, the Kanopus-V-IK Russian Earth-imaging satellite, are not responding to commands from their operators.

    What is notable, however, is that “there is no evidence that rocket problems caused the cubesat failures.

    Cubesat failure is not an unexpected problem, at least in general. It seems that off the shelf cubesat parts may not yet be as ready to fly as we thought.
    His [Michael Johnson, chief technologist for the applied engineering and technology directorate of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center] experience with one recent mission, Dellingr, illustrated the problem. … ‘We received components that, out of the box, did not work. We received components that, when they got to a certain temperature, they would cease working. We received components where the data sheets did not agree with them. We received components with all kinds of issues.’

    David Voss of the Air Force Research Lab … recommends a core set of tests of spacecraft power, communications and other essential systems.

    There seems to be a problem with developing parts and assemblies into reliable flight items. There is a “Valley of Death” when it comes to development of spacecraft parts, a problem of getting a new technology from Technology Readiness Level 1 or 2 (TRL-1 or TRL-2), the tech is feasible, to flight operations (TRL-9). The intervening levels, the ground-demonstration and development levels, are the hard part, the Valley of Death part:
    Inadequate funding, fear of failure, red tape and high launch costs conspire to make it difficult to take promising new technologies from the laboratory to orbit, officials with some of the leading U.S. space-development institutions said during a panel discussion here.

    JPL engineers are freer to experiment as they shepherd technologies across the ‘valley of death’ to flight readiness, [Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Eugene Tattini, deputy director of JPL] said.

    This previous link is to a 2004 article, but Space News has a July 31 2017 article on the same topic, showing that the “Valley of Death” is still alive and well in spaceflight. This year’s article makes the suggestion that “failure should be an option.

    It seems that the problem is not hopeless. One company may be willing to do what it takes:
    Harris is developing small satellites to test electronics and other systems Harris plans to fly on larger spacecraft.

    Since the problem is lack of willingness to take the risks and expense to develop and fly technology that has only been shown to be feasible, it is good that someone seems willing to take that risk. For them, they are not so worried about the option of failure.

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