Russia launches Progress freighter to ISS

Russia tonight successfully launched a new Progress freighter to ISS using its Soyuz-2 rocket.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

6 China
6 SpaceX
6 Russia

The U.S. now leads both China and Russia 10 to 6 in the national rankings. This is the first time that Russia has been able to keep up with China in launches in several years. Since China had expected to launch more times than Russia in 2020, this suggests that China’s launch rate has been reduced because of the Wuhan flu. It at least appears that many of their smaller launch rockets have suspended launches.

We have also heard nothing recently about China’s planned mid- to late-April first launch of its Long March 5B. With only six days left in the month, one wonders if this launch too has been delayed.

Successful Russia and Rocket Lab launches

Two launches successfully took place in the early morning hours today. First Rocket Lab launched seven small satellites into orbit, including one that will release an artificial meteor shower. During that launch they also obtained telemetry of their first stage as it fell to Earth.

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck just tweeted that the Electron’s first stage performed well during today’s re-entry experiment. “Electron made it through wall! Solid telemetry all the way to sea level with a healthy stage. A massive step for recovery!!” Beck tweeted.

Russia in turn launched a Progress cargo capsule to ISS.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

27 China
19 Russia
12 SpaceX
7 Europe (Arianespace)
6 Rocket Lab

China now leads the U.S. 27 to 25 in the national rankings.

“Damaged cable” causes Russians to delay Progress launch

Because of the discovery of a “damaged cable” on a Progress freighter, the Russians have delayed its launch from December 1 to December 6.

On the morning of November 25, Roskosmos announced that issues had been found during the preparations of Progress MS-13 for launch. “Problems are now resolved and the checks of onboard systems are ongoing,” the State Corporation said. “There will be a separate announcement on the launch date…” the announcement said, hinting that the planned December 1 launch window was no longer valid. Before the end of the work day in Moscow on November 25, Roskosmos posted an update announcing that the launch of Progress MS-13 had been rescheduled for December 6, 2019, at 12:34 Moscow Time, due to an issue with an onboard cable found by specialists from RKK Energia. The problem was resolved after the replacement of the cable, the company said. According to a posting on the online forum of the Novosti Kosmonavtiki magazine, specialists spent past two days trying to find a source of electric charge on the body of the spacecraft and then discovered a damaged cable in the vehicle’s instrument compartment. [emphasis mine]

Considering the drillhole found in an earlier Soyuz capsule, I cannot help wondering if this damage was intentional. The Russians never revealed if they had identified the culprit of that earlier damage, and the reports from Russia today are somewhat vague about this new damage.

This Progress launch had earlier been rescheduled from December 6 to avoid a conflict with the launch of a Dragon cargo capsule. There is no word yet on how that conflict will be mitigated now that the launch is back on that date.

Russia launches and docks new Progress freighter to ISS

Russia today launched and quickly docked a new Progress freighter, to ISS, with the trip taking slightly over three hours.

I think this might have been the fastest flight to ISS, though if not it is certainly among the fastest.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

11 China
11 Russia
9 SpaceX
5 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India

The U.S. continues to lead in the national rankings, 15-11.

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.

Last Soyuz-U launches Progress to ISS

Russia today successfully launched a Progress freighter to ISS using its last Soyuz-U rocket.

The Soyuz-U has been launched hundreds of times since the 1970s, but has been replaced by Russia because it uses equipment made in Ukraine. The newer versions of the Soyuz rockets are completely home-built, but also have been plagued by quality control problems and corruption within Russia.

Posted in the air of the Gulf of Mexico in route to Belize.

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.

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.

Update on Progress/Soyuz launch failure

Link here It appears that the spacecraft separated from the upper stage while it was still firing, causing that stage to next collide with the spacecraft.

What is certain is that computers on Progress MS-04 interpreted the separation as nominal and initiated a sequence, which would be normally performed upon reaching orbit, including the deployment of the ship’s antennas and the preparation of the attitude control thrusters, DPO, for action. However, moments after the separation, the spacecraft appeared to be struck twice by the rocket stage, which clearly continued its powered flight. The first impact came nearly straight into the aft bulkhead of the ship, then the second hit landed moments later into the side of the vehicle.

The collision apparently caused the spacecraft’s propulsion system, SKD, to shift to the side from its normal position, the temperature inside its enclosure to plummet and the whole vehicle to tumble. The telemetry from the Progress also indicated the activation of its thermal control system, probably in response to a breach in the ship’s transfer compartment.

Why separation occurred prematurely, while the engines were firing, still remains a mystery.

Dispute in Russia over Progress failure investigation

The Russian mission control has publicly disavowed a report that cited mission control as saying that the failure of the Soyuz/Progress launch last week was due to the premature shutdown of the Soyuz rocket’s third stage.

First the source:

A source in the space and rocket industry told TASS that the emergency shutdown of the engines occurred after 382 seconds and at the same time the spacecraft’s separation occurred. After that, the flight control system started operating in automatic flight mode and began deploying antennas and solar batteries. However, the spacecraft failed to reach orbit and started falling and ended up being destroyed in the atmosphere.

Next the disavowal:

”Any version which are now being voiced by the media have nothing to do with reality, including the incorrect cyclogram data. The results of the commission’s work will be announced no earlier than December 20,” a spokesperson told RIA Novosti.

I must admit that the source’s suggested cause for the failure, that the rocket engine shut prematurely and the spacecraft then simply separated and began its deployment before it had reached orbital velocity and thus fell back to Earth, sounds good at first glance. However, this explanation does not explain why all communications with the spacecraft suddenly ceased.

Either way, it does appear that there is an effort within Roscosmos to spin the events in the press, prior to the completion of the investigation. This in itself is not a good sign, as it suggests that there are people there who are trying to cover their asses rather than honestly trying to find out the cause of the failure.

Russian authorities locate Progress debris

Russian authorities in Siberia have located and identified several bits of wreckage from the Soyuz-U rocket and Progress freighter that failed to reach orbit last week.

Two pieces, including a large spherical object, were found by herders over the weekend, while another was discovered in the courtyard of a residential house on Monday, said the region’s head Sholban Karaa-ool, warning people not to touch any metal debris.

Regional sanitation officials “inspected the spot where two pieces of the spacecraft were found in the Ulug-Khem district, on the side of the mountain and near a yurt,” Kara-ool said on his official website. “Another small piece was found in the yard of a house in the Eilig-Khem village,” he said.

Whether this debris can help them pinpoint the cause of the failure remains unknown.

Cause of Progress failure unlikely to be found

Not good: Sources in the Russian press say that it will likely be impossible to pinpoint precisely the cause of the Progress failure this week because of a lack of telemetry or data.

The causes of Thursday’s loss of the Progress cargo spacecraft are unlikely to be established, because neither telemetry data nor debris of the Soyuz-U rocket that was taking the cargo vehicle in orbit are available. “Telemetry transmission from the rocket was disrupted instantly, so it is practically impossible to establish the sequence of events to identify the causes of the emergency. As for material evidence, such as debris of the rocket’s third stage that might provide some clues, it is not available, either,” the source said.

They are still searching for debris but have so far come up empty.

Lacking data, they are now beginning to use computer modeling to try to figure out what happened. The prime suspect is the third stage engine.

Russia completes preliminary design for Progress replacement

The competition heats up: Russian engineers have completed their preliminary design for a proposed Progress replacement, first revealed August 22.

The main rationale for the development of the new cargo ship was the urgent need to reduce the number of cargo launches to the ISS from four to three annually, while still supporting three crew members on the Russian segment of the station.

The preliminary design for the new cargo ship was originally to be completed in December 2016, but the work was apparently sped up to be completed in August of the same year. Still, even if the go ahead for the full-scale development of the project was given immediately, the new cargo ship was not expected to fly before 2020. In the meantime, the Russian crew onboard the ISS could be reduced from three to two people beginning in March 2017 onward, with the exception of a time period in 2018, when Russian cosmonauts would have to conduct spacewalks to outfit the newly arrived MLM module.

The new design, radically different from Russia’s present Soyuz and Progress capsules, would be able to place 8.2 tons in orbit, one ton more than Progress. That the Russians accelerated the design process suggests to me that they are putting a high priority on this project, and that they will build it.

Russia announces revised launch schedule for ISS

As promised, the Russians today revealed their revised schedule of launches for ISS for the next few months.

The next manned launch will be on July 3, and though it will use a Soyuz rocket, it will not use the upgraded rocket version that had a conflict with its Progress freighter during the April launch. They have still not described what that conflict was, or how they plan to fix it on future launches.

Meanwhile, a Soyuz capsule docked to ISS suddenly fired its thrusters unexpectedly during testing of the station’s radio system. The burn changed the station’s orientation, which required other thrusters to compensate.

Soyuz rocket to launch this week

In the heat of competition: Despite releasing very vague conclusions to its Soyuz rocket failure investigation, the Russians are going to resume Soyuz launches, beginning this week.

Update: The launch on Friday was successful.

I imagine that NASA will insist on more details before the next manned flight, including how they have solved the flaw that caused the Soyuz/Progress failure. At least, that is what a private company would do. What a government agency will do is sometimes beyond my understanding.

Angara to launch commercial payload on next launch

The competition heats up: Russia has decided to accelerate use of its heavy Angara rocket by launching a commercial payload on its next launch in 2016.

They had initially planned to do more test flights. The technical problems with Proton, combined with increased competition from SpaceX and others, is forcing them to move at a less leisurely pace.

In the meantime, they have concluded their investigation into the Progress/Soyuz rocket failure, issuing an incredibly vague press release that only stated the following:

The damage to the ship during its abnormal separation from the third stage of the Soyuz-2-1a launch vehicle resulted from a particular property of the joint use of the cargo spacecraft and the launch vehicle. This design property was related to frequency and dynamic characteristics of joint vehicles. This design property was not fully accounted for during the development of the rocket and spacecraft complex.

Limitations on further flights of the Soyuz-2-1a rocket with other spacecraft had not been found.

It sounds to me as if they don’t know exactly what caused the abnormal separation between the rocket and the spacecraft, and that they have decided to move on regardless.

I think it would be very wise for the U.S. to get its own manned spacecraft operational as fast as possible.

The Russian investigation into Progress failure stalled?

Internal disagreements appear to be hampering the investigation into the Progress launch failure in late April.

The investigation had been leaning to pinning the failure on the disintegration of the Soyuz third stage oxygen tank. Others, however, are now claiming that the disintegration itself was caused by an improper separation of Progress from the rocket. The result is that the investigation has delayed the release of its findings.

What caused the failed separation of the Soyuz and Progress?

A good translation of this week’s press release from the investigation into the April 28 Progress failure indicates that the failure occurred because of an abnormal separation of the freighter from the upper stage.

After reviewing all the materials, members of the State Commission came to a preliminary conclusion that a version of the abnormal separation had been objectively confirmed, which includes two subsequent events related to the depressurization (disintegration after the cutoff of the third-stage engine) first of the oxidizer tank and then of the fuel tank, Roskosmos said.

In other words, the separation was so abnormal it put both the freighter and the upper stages in the wrong orbits, with the Progress tumbling and damaged, and with the upper stage almost immediately disintegrating.

They are now studying the data to try to figure out what caused the bad separation so they can inspect other Soyuz upper stages for the same problem and fix them before launch.

Russians confirm flip of Progress and Soyuz launches

It’s official: The launch of the next crew to ISS will be delayed until late July to allow both a Progress freighter to launch first as well as give investigators more time to figure out what went wrong with the Soyuz upper stage during last month’s Progress launch.

In addition, the crew that had been slated to return to Earth this week will remain on board for another month to reduce the amount of time the station is manned with only 3 astronauts.

It appears that investigation is zeroing in on the upper stage of the Soyuz rocket, whose tanks apparently depressurized prematurely, causing the freighter to separate early and end up in an incorrect orbit.

Russian sources confirm their plan to flip launches to ISS

Though not yet officially decided, managers in the Russian space agency are definitely considering switching the launch dates of the next Soyuz and Progress missions to ISS, so that the unmanned cargo flight flies first.

Both spacecraft use the Soyuz rocket, and it now appears that the cause of last week’s Progress failure was a problem in the Soyuz third stage. They want to check out all Soyuz third stages before they put any humans on one. Switching the flights gives them time to do it. It also gets needed cargo to ISS sooner.

Progress failure causes delay in next manned mission to ISS

Russian sources suggest that they will postpone the next manned mission to ISS from May 26 to June 11 as they investigate the failure of the Progress freighter last week.

This article also suggests that the Russians might flip the next Progress and Soyuz flights to have the Progress go first. (This schedule change is something I suggested might happen last week, right after the launch failure.)

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