Roscosmos forbids its astronauts from using Europe’s robot arm

In response to the final decision this week by the European Space Agency to officially end its cooperation with Russia on its ExoMars mission, Roscosmos today forbid its astronauts from using Europe’s new robot arm that was recently installed on the Russian Nauka module of ISS.

Russia’s crew onboard the International Space Station (ISS) will stop using the European ERA manipulator arm in response to the European Space Agency’s (ESA) refusal from cooperation on the ExoMars project, CEO of Russia’s state space corporation Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin said on Tuesday.

“In my turn, I instruct our ISS crew to stop using the European Robotic Arm (ERA). Let [ESA Director General Josef] Aschbacher along with his boss [EU foreign policy chief Josep] Borrell fly to space and do at least something useful in their entire lives,” he wrote on his Telegram channel.

The arm was designed to work on the Russian part of ISS, so it appears this decision by Rogozin is an example of someone cutting off his nose to spite his face. It essentially reduces Russia’s capabilities on the station.

As for ExoMars, it is unclear what will happen to the lander that Russia built to put Europe’s Franklin rover on Mars. Roscosmos has said it might proceed with its own mission to Mars, using that lander, but it has not made the full commitment to do so.

Russia successfully launches Progress with new docking hub for ISS

Russia today successfully launched a new Progress freighter carrying Prichal, a new docking hub for the Russian half of ISS.

If all goes as planned, Prichal will dock to Nauka in two days.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

43 China
26 SpaceX
19 Russia
5 Europe (Arianespace)

China still leads the U.S. 43 to 41 in the national rankings. This launch was the 111th successful launch in 2021, which tied the number from 2018 that had been the highest since the 1990s.

Nauka shook up ISS more than first revealed

According to new reporting, when the new Russian module Nauka unexpectedly began firing its engines, it rotated the International Space Station far more than first revealed, requiring a much more complicated effort to bring the station back to its correct orientation.

Zebulon Scoville, the flight director at NASA mission control in Houston, revealed that the 45 degrees that was initially reported as the amount ISS rotated was incorrect.

According to Scoville, the event has “been a little incorrectly reported.” He said that after Nauka incorrectly fired up, the station “spun one-and-a-half revolutions — about 540 degrees — before coming to a stop upside down. The space station then did a 180-degree forward flip to get back to its original orientation,” according to the report.

Scoville also shared that this was the first time that he has ever declared a “spacecraft emergency.”

It appears that though the station spun far more than first reported, the rate of rotation was still relatively slow, so it apparently did no harm to the station.

Scoville also revealed that, based on the data on hand during the event, it appeared Nauka was also trying to undock itself from the station. Mission controllers tried to counter this by firing engines on a Russian Progress freighter as well as on the Zvezda module.

Had Nauka’s engines had not stopped firing (for unknown reasons, though probably because they ran out of fuel), there was the real chance the accelerations could have shaken the station apart. Moreover, that other engines were brought into play suggests that the Russians not only did not know why Nauka’s engines fired, they had at the time no way to shut them down, and were thus forced to improvise other actions to try to save the increasingly dangerous situation.

Russia offers conflicting causes for Nauka engine firing

Russian officials have now suggested two explanations for the accidently ignition of the engines on the new Nauka module to ISS, neither of which appears to have involved any real investigation.

Vladimir Solovyov, flight director of the space station’s Russian segment, blamed the incident on a “short-term software failure.” In a statement released Friday by the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Solovyov said because of the failure, a direct command to turn on the lab’s engines was mistakenly implemented.

He added the incident was “quickly countered by the propulsion system” of another Russian component at the station and “at the moment, the station is in its normal orientation” and all its systems “are operating normally.”

Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin later Friday suggested that “human factor” may have been at play. “There was such euphoria (after Nauka successfully docked with the space station), people relaxed to some extent,” Rogozin said in a radio interview. “Perhaps one of the operators didn’t take into account that the control system of the block will continue to adjust itself in space. And it determined a moment three hours after (the docking) and turned on the engines.” [emphasis mine]

So, was it human error? Or was it the software programming? Or both?

No matter what the specific cause, these conflicting stories, thrown out in almost an offhand manner, demonstrate that the real fundamental cause was the terrible, sloppy, and error-prone quality control systems at Roscosmos and all the aerospace companies it has taken over since the Putin administration consolidated Russia’s aerospace industry into a single government-run corporation.

These kinds of failures seem to happen with Russia now repeatedly. From launch aborts to launch failures to corruption in contracting to corruption in engine construction to plain simple sabotage, mistakes and errors and poor planning and dishonesty seem to hound their space effort at every level. Thank God Americans no longer have to fly on a Soyuz capsule, though one American on board ISS is still scheduled to come home on one.

Without competition and freedom, there is no pressure in Russia to improve, to improvise, to rethink, and to clean house when a management gets stale or corrupt. Instead, operations stultify and develop dry rot. They can’t see problems or even fix them efficiently. If anything, management circles the wagons to protect itself, while often deliberately ignoring the problems.

Rocket science is hard. It can quickly kill people when done poorly.

I think it will be a great relief to end this partnership. And the sooner the better.

Nauka engines fire unexpectedly after docking; forces cancellation of Starliner launch

The soap opera of the Nauka module to ISS became even more dramatic today when its engines fired unexpectedly after its docking, causing the station to shift in orbit and forcing Russian mission controllers to shut it down and fire other engines to return the station to its proper orbit.

Russia’s Roscosmos space agency attributed the issue to Nauka’s engines having to work with residual fuel in the craft, TASS news agency reported. “The process of transferring the Nauka module from flight mode to ‘docked with ISS’ mode is underway. Work is being carried out on the remaining fuel in the module,” Roscosmos was cited by TASS as saying.

It appears that because they needed to improvise the rendezvous using different engines, there is more fuel left over in Nauka than expected once it docked, and this needs to be vented safely. Somehow, instead of venting the module ignited the engines.

NASA has subsequently postponed tomorrow’s second unmanned demo launch of Boeing’s manned Starliner capsule until the agency has a clear understanding of the issue and has confirmed that Nauka’s presence is not a serious safety issue.

Russians detach Pirs module in anticipation of Nauka arrival to ISS

With the engine problems of Russia’s new ISS module Nauka apparently resolved sufficiently for its rendezvous and docking expected on on July 29th, Russian astronauts today undocked the 20-year-old Pirs module, which then used its engines so that it safely burned up over the Pacific Ocean.

The article provides a nice history of Pirs, which was originally intended for Russia’s Mir-2 station, never built after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Pirs, meaning “pier,” traces its origins back to the Mir-2 space station — which was itself a Soviet project that’s design began in 1976. Mir-2’s long and troubled history would eventually find it in the early 1990s where major design changes to launch its various modules via the Buran space shuttle were underway.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, Mir-2 emerged the following year as a four-module station — including a Docking Module, which would become Pirs. In 1993, Mir-2 officially merged with the long-delayed NASA/European/Japanese/Canadian space station Freedom project to become the building blocks of the International Space Station.

The module, which provided the Russian half of ISS needed extra docking ports, was originally expected to be replaced after about five years with a larger module, but this was never built.

Nauka issues apparently resolved?

According to a press release for Roscosmos, engineers have successfully fired the engines on Russia’s new large module for ISS, dubbed Nauka, and the module is now on course for rendezvous with the space station.

On Thursday, July 22, 2021 the Nauka Multipurpose Module Flight Control Group specialists at Moscow Mission Control Center conducted two correction maneuvers of the module that had launched to the International Space Station the previous day.

The first maneuver took place at 15:07 UTC with the module engines burn for 17.23 seconds giving an impulse of 1 m/sec. The second burn for 250.04 seconds took place at 17:19 UTC with an impulse of 14.59 m/sec.

No details were released explaining why the first course correction engine burn did not happen as scheduled.

UPDATE: I have added a question mark to the headline because there indications from a variety of sources, all unconfirmed, that the problems might still persist. We shall find out in the next two days.

Russia’s new module for ISS, Nauka, in trouble after launch

The new big Russian module for ISS, dubbed Nauka and successfully launched yesterday, appears to have a serious engine issue, according to these twitter reports by Anthony Zak of RussianSpaceWeb.com.

From his two tweets:

UPDATE: #Nauka’s main engines (pictured in operation) are currently out of commission. Specialists are troubleshooting the issue and developing a backup rendezvous plan. The module has ~30 stable orbits at current altitude.

…one more thing: at this point, there is no information that Nauka’s tank membranes have leaks in orbit. Those rumors in the Russian press might be a garbled echo of my reporting here ;)->

Nauka’s launch came about fourteen years behind scheduled, delayed by many engineering and quality control problems. Its construction began more than a quarter century ago. If Nauka fails to dock with ISS the Russians will face a disaster to their space program that almost cannot be measured. It will certainly make the Chinese much more reluctant to depend on Russia in their supposed partnership to build a base on the Moon or to work together on China’s space station. It should also make the U.S. far more reluctant to depend on Russia in its Artemis program.

Worse, it is questionable the Russians can get anything built in any reasonable time to replace Nauka. How can anyone expect them to build anything in a reasonable time for either of the U.S. or Chinese interplanetary projects?

Russia launches Nauka, its first new ISS module in 11 years

Russia today used its Proton rocket to successfully place in orbit its new ISS module, Nauka, the first new Russian module in eleven years, and fourteen years after it was originally supposed to launch.

After launch and orbit insertion, the module, MLM-U Nauka, is now performing an eight day phase to the Station for an automated docking on July 29 to the nadir docking port of the Zvezda service module, a port currently occupied by the Pirs module.

Upon arrival, Nauka will become the third largest module of the Russian segment of the ISS and will add 70 cubic meters of space to the Station’s internal volume, a third Russian-side sleeping location, an additional toilet, as well as new water regeneration and oxygen production systems — augmenting some of the original systems in Zvezda that are showing their 22 year age.

The main task for the Nauka module will be to conduct scientific experiments. The pressurized compartment of the module contains 21 universal working places (URM), including four locations with sliding shelves, a glove box, a frame with an automatic rotating vibration-proof platform, and a porthole with a diameter of 426 mm for visual and instrumental observations.

The article above provides a very interesting review of Nauka’s complex and difficult history.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

23 China
20 SpaceX
12 Russia
3 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. still leads China 29 to 23 in the national rankings.

Roscosmos finally approves ISS module Nauka for launch

After successfully completing its last ground tests, Roscosmos announced today that it has finally approved the launch on July 15th of its next module for ISS, dubbed Nauka.

Nauka’s long road to space began more than a quarter of a century ago, in 1995, with this year’s launch about fourteen years behind schedule. An engineer who started working on Nauka after graduation at the age of 25 would now be a grizzled veteran of 51 and looking forward to retirement in only a few years.

The module will provide the Russian half of ISS a second restroom, greater oxygen and water recycling capacity, and room for a third resident, all necessary additions for the planned two commercial tourist launches Russia has scheduled for the fall.

Russian astronauts complete spacewalk to prepare ISS for Nauka

Two Russian astronauts yesterday successfully completed an almost seven-hour spacewalk removing and repositioning equipment to prepare ISS for the arrival of Nauka next year, Russia’s next module for ISS.

The Pirs module will be removed and junked next year to make room for the research lab Nauka — Russian for “science.” Several Russian-directed spacewalks will be required to deal with all this. The plan calls for attaching a cargo ship to Pirs in order to guide it to a fiery reentry.

The new 22-ton lab — stretching 43 feet (13 meters) long — is so big that it will be launched from Kazakhstan by a powerful Proton rocket. Once at the orbiting outpost, it will double as an air lock and docking port.

Earlier it had been announced that they would also do an inspection of the area on Zvezda where they had also discovered a small crack, the cause of the longstanding leak on the station. It appears they did not do this. probably because astronauts inside the station had placed a new permanent patch on the leak, and the work they were doing during the spacewalk carried a higher priority.

Expect that inspection to eventually occur, but for now the cause of that crack remains unknown.

Nauka finally arrives at launch site, thirteen years late

Russia’s Nauka module for ISS has finally arrived at its launch site at Baikonur, Kazakhstan, to be prepared for its launch, now scheduled for April 2021.

After its arrival and fitting-out, Nauka will become the primary laboratory module on the Russian segment. Currently, Russia has two small laboratory modules – Rassvet and Poisk – both of which will be dwarfed by Nauka. Additionally, Nauka will take the title of the heaviest Russian module on the Station, at 24.2 tons. Zvezda currently holds this honor, at 20.3 tons.

The module is thirteen years later than first planned and has been under construction for more than a quarter century.

Russia to ship Nauka to Baikonur launch site August 10

Russia now plans to ship its Nauka ISS module to Baikonur on August 10th, three days later than previously planned, where it will begin the final nine months of preparations for launch.

“The stage of electrical tests takes about six months together with preparations because there is a large number of systems. Scheduled operational measures take another three months from this moment to the launch. This involves direct preparations for the launch together with the provision of microbiological protection, fueling and other operations,” he explained.

Nauka will provide the Russians a second toilet on ISS, plus produce oxygen and water (from urine) for six astronauts. It will also become the cabin for a third Russian-flown astronaut, either tourist or professional.

Nauka is a quarter century in the making, its construction having started in 1995. As a government-run project, that pace matches well with SLS, Orion, the James Webb Space Telescope, and many other big government projects not related to space. The goal isn’t to accomplish anything really but to create the justification for fake jobs that can last a lifetime.

Russia’s next module for ISS passes tests

At last! Russia’s long-delayed next module for ISS, dubbed Nauka, has finally passed its vacuum chamber tests and is now scheduled for shipment to the launch site on July 21 to 23.

Construction of Nauka began in 1995, a quarter of a century ago. For comparison, in the last quarter of the 20th century Russia launched Salyut 1, Salyut 3, Salyut 4, Salyut 5, Salyut 6, Salyut 7, Mir, and its first five modules for ISS. All told those launches involved building and putting into orbit 18 different modules, with 14 comparable to Nauka in size and mass, all built and launched in about the same amount of time it has taken Russia to build Nauka alone.

At this pace it will take centuries for Russia to build its next space station, no less get to the Moon or Mars.

Russia confirms launch delay to 2021 of Nauka module to ISS

Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s space agency Roscomos, confirmed yesterday that the launch of its Nauka module for ISS will not occur in 2020.

In January they had hinted that the mission would be delayed to early 2021.

Construction of Nauka had begun in 1995, twenty-five years ago, which in a sense puts it in the lead for the most dismal government space project, beating out the James Webb Space Telescope (about 21 years since first proposed) and the Space Launch System (16 years since Bush proposed it). All three now say they will launch in 2021 but no one should be criticized if they doubt this.

Russia again delays launch of Nauka module for ISS

Russia yesterday announced that it will once again delay the launch of its Nauka module for ISS due to “additional adjustments that should be carried out due to the use of original propellant tanks.”

The TASS article did not explain what those adjustments will be, though it did outline some of the sad history of Nauka, which Russia had begun construction in 1995, a quarter of a century ago.

Earlier, Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozi said the research module’s original propellant tanks, manufactured about 18 years ago, could be replaced with those from the Fregat booster. However, later it was decided to send the module to the ISS with its original tanks.

The construction of the Nauka module began in 1995. Russia initially planned to launch the Nauka lab to the ISS as a back-up of the Zarya compartment (the station’s first module that continues its flight as part of the orbital outpost) but the launch was numerously delayed. In 2013, the Nauka module was sent to the Khrunichev Space Center after metal chips were found in its fuel system.

Right now they are saying it will probably launch early in 2021, not late in 2020 as previously announced.

Problems fixed with next Russian ISS module

According to a report from Russia today, the problems with contamination in the fuel tanks for Russia’s next module to ISS, originally scheduled for launch in 2013, have finally been dealt with, and the launch can go forward.

“Original tanks will be used. They had successfully undergone all trials, all problems with them have been fixed. We are now receiving relevant documents,” one of the sources told TASS. He said the module is currently at the Khrunichev center, and the timeframe of finishing touches to it is now being coordinated.

Another source in the industry told TASS that although Nauka tanks were initially designed for multiple use, “they will be used only once – for the module’s docking with the space station.”

In other words, they weighed their options, and decided that limiting the tanks to only one use was better than trying to replace them. I suspect this is because the replacement was both very difficult and would have also delayed the launch so much that ISS might not have been orbit any longer.

A new launch date has not been announced. Previously Roscosmos had indicated 2020 as the date.

Further launch delays for Russia’s next ISS module & space telescope

The race to be last! Russia today announced that the launch of both its next ISS module as well as a new space telescope will be delayed until 2019.

The ISS module, Nauka, is years behind schedule, and is presently being cleaned of contamination in its fuel system that was found several years ago.

“Repairs of the MLM Nauka are taking longer than expected, and the deadlines are yet unclear. This means it will not be brought to Baikonur any time soon, and the launch will be postponed until 2019,” the source said.

It was reported earlier that the mission would be delayed for six months. “The delivery of the MLM Nauka to the Baikonur cosmodrome has been moved from September to late 2018. Hence, the module’s launch to the ISS has been provisionally delayed for another six months,” the source said. The launch was scheduled for September 2018 with the possible alternative date in March 2019.

The article also notes delays for Spekr-RG high-energy space telescope until 2019. The article might also describe delays for another satellite, though the writing is unclear.

Nauka was first built in the 1990s as a backup for ISS’s first module. In the early 2000s Russia decided to reconfigure it and fly it to ISS, with its launch scheduled for 2007. This means its launch is now going to be twelve years behind schedule.

It sure does appear that Russia’s Roscosmos is competing with NASA to see which government agency can delay its missions the longest. In fact, for fun, let’s put together the standings!

  • Nauka: 12 years behind schedule (originally scheduled for 2007, now 2019)
  • James Webb Space Telescope: 9 years behind schedule (originally scheduled for 2011, now 2020)
  • SLS/Orion: 8 years behind schedule (originally scheduled for 2015, now 2023)

Stay tuned. This race to the bottom is far from over. NASA could still win, especially because it has more than one project in the running.

Russia’s next ISS module, Nauka, delayed again

Russia is apparently going to have to delay the launch of its next ISS module, Nauka, into 2019.

Nauka was initially built in the 1990s as a back-up module for one of Russia’s first ISS first modules, Zarya. It has undergone numerous concept changes, and even more numerous delays, including the most recent and worst, where it was discovered that they had to scrub clean the module’s fueling system because they had become contaminated.

Russia to up ISS crew back to three

In order to integrate the new Nauka module, expected to launch in 2019, the Russians plan to increase their crew size on ISS back to three in late 2018.

[L]ong before the Nauka’s arrival, the Russian crew members aboard the ISS will have their hands full with various chores preceding the docking of the 20-ton spacecraft, which will increase the size and mass of the Russian Segment by almost a third. Moreover, once the module is in place, Russian cosmonauts are expected to labor into the 2020 to fully plug all the systems of the new room into their home in orbit. The total time required to integrate Nauka is expected to reach 2,000 work hours, including 11 spacewalks!

The preparations for the addition of the long-awaited module were scheduled to begin less than a year from now on Sept. 8, 2018, with the launch of the three members of Expedition 57 crew aboard the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft. The launch will mark the first time since October 2016 that a Soyuz will lift more than one Russian cosmonaut.

Nauka is more than a decade behind schedule, which puts it in the same league as SLS and Orion. But then, Nauka, like SLS and Orion, is a government-built project, so no one should be surprised that it has taken so long. The goal isn’t the exploration of space. The goal is to create jobs, even if they don’t accomplish anything for decades.

How Russia’s next ISS module got contaminated

Russia’s next module for ISS, MLM or Nauka, has been delayed years because of the discovery of sawdust sized metal particles throughout the module’s propulsion system. This article describes how this happened, showing the incredibly incompetence and bad quality control that caused it.

At the time, workers at Khrunichev were cutting pipelines and removing other components of the module’s propulsion system, in order to reconfigure it from its original role as a backup to the Zarya FGB module into the MLM. For example, a set of six tanks, which would be used for refueling of the ISS during the FGB mission, were removed from the exterior of the spacecraft in order to make room for scientific instruments and for the attachment of the European Robotic Arm, ERA.

The official conclusion of the probe said that the contamination had stemmed from the “lack of methodological and technological support for the operations of cutting pipeline connections in the pneumatic and hydraulic system, PGS, which was needed to guarantee the meeting of requirements for ensuring the sterility of the internal cavities in the pipelines and system hardware.” It is essentially bureaucratic speak for letting metallic dust formed during sawing off the lines pour into the interior of the remaining components.

According to one legend circulating at GKNPTs Khrunichev, the workers who were sawing off pipelines from the module thought they were dismantling the entire spacecraft for scrap. That story would sound completely unbelievable if not for other almost as incredible incidents of carelessness, poor quality control and incompetence within the industry in recent years, such as the installing navigation sensors on a Proton rocket in the upside down position or loading a Block DM-03 space tug on another Proton with too much propellant.

Read the whole story. It is most revealing of the overall systematic problems within Russia’s aerospace industry.

More problems for Russian ISS module

A Russian module intended for ISS, delayed for years because of technical problems, appears to have more issues that could delay it further, and might even prevent its launch entirely.

As its original 2007 launch date came and went, more and more delays pushed back the MLM’s launch. Then, in 2013, engineers discovered a leaking fueling valve as well as contamination in the propulsion system. At the time, reports said repairs and cleanup would take nearly 10 months.

Those months stretched into years. During the last four years, engineers have been working diligently replacing a jungle of pipelines, valves, and thrusters—part of Nauka’s sophisticated propulsion system—in an effort to get rid of the sawdust contamination introduced during botched upgrades. Because the spacecraft has stayed earthbound much longer than intended, parts of Nauka have also slipped out of warranty.

Fighting off political and logistical concerns surrounding the project—as well suggestions that they ground the MLM entirely until it can serve as the first module of Russia’s own space station—the tedious cleanup and repair effort entered its final phase this year, and the module finally appeared on track for launch at the end of this year or, at the very latest, the first half of 2018.

Then things went from bad to worse. In the past few weeks, engineers found the same contamination they’ve been fighting for years inside the module’s propellant tanks. The repair team tried to wash off these contaminants, but so far all efforts to cleanse the vessels have failed.

Read the whole article. The situation is not good.