Tag Archives: Russia

Russia and China to team up on lunar lander/orbiter missions

Russia and China have signed an agreement to cooperate on several future lunar lander and orbiter unmanned missions.

The agreements will see cooperation in Russia’s Luna-26 orbiter spacecraft and Chang’e-7 polar landing mission, according to Roscosmos, which could involve contributions of science payloads to the respective spacecraft. Both missions are currently scheduled for the early-to-mid 2020s.

The two sides also committed to previously announced plans to create a joint lunar and deep space data center, which will consist of hubs in both Russia and China.

How they will specifically cooperate on those specific space missions was not made clear. From what I can gather, the real heart of this agreement are those joint data centers for both missions.

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Bridenstine will ask Russia for explanation about drill hole

NASA’s administrator Jim Bridenstine, when asked by journalists about the decision by Russia to keep secret the origins of the drill hole in a Soyuz capsule that caused a leak on ISS, said he will politely beg Russia for some answers.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine vowed Thursday to speak to the head of the Russian space agency after reports that the cause of a hole found on the International Space Station last year would be kept secret.

But he was careful to point out that he doesn’t want this situation to destroy the country’s relationship with Russia, a partner in space since 1975. “They have not told me anything,” Bridenstine told the Houston Chronicle during a question and answer session at a Houston energy conference. “I don’t want to let one item set (the relationship) back, but it is clearly not acceptable that there are holes in the International Space Station.”

Sure, let’s not offend those Russians so we can keep flying Americans on their capsules, even though they won’t tell us who drilled a hole in a Soyuz capsule prior to launch, then patched it badly so that it began leaking after a few months in space.

This kind of logic could only make sense in Washington government circles.

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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.

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Roscosmos knows but will not disclose cause of Soyuz drilled hole

According to a statement by Dmitri Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, the Russians now know what or who caused the drillhole in a Soyuz capsule, found when air began to leak from ISS in August 2018, but they will not reveal that information.

What happened is clear to us, but we won’t tell you anything”, Rogozin said at a meeting with the participants of a scientific youth conference. … We may have some secrets”, he said.

I wonder if NASA will accept this decision. I also wonder why this doesn’t raise the hackles of NASA’s safety panel, which seems so willing to stall the launch of American manned capsules for far less worrisome safety reasons, thus forcing us to use Russia’s Soyuz capsule instead.

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UAE’s first manned flight launches this week on Soyuz

This article provides a nice detailed Arab perspective on the upcoming September 25 launch of the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) first manned mission, sending one of their jet fighter pilots on a Soyuz to ISS for about a week.

The article not only also reviews the entire history of past Arab astronaut missions in space, the first on an American shuttle in 1985 and the second on a Soyuz in 1987, it summarizes the present-day space-related efforts throughout the Arab world, not just in the UAE. Good information in advance of this week’s upcoming launch.

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New Russia Soyuz spacesuits interfere with Russia pee tradition

Only in Russia: The newly designed Russian spacesuits for use by astronauts during ascent and descent in the Soyuz capsule apparently do not have a fly that will allow the continuation of a long-standing Russian tradition initiated by Yuri Gagarin on his way to the launchpad for his historic spaceflight.

The Sokol-M prototype suit was designed as a replacement for suits worn during launches to the International Space Station (ISS) on Soyuz spacecraft. … The maker of the suits, the aerospace firm Zvezda, says they will be made of new materials and adaptable to different body sizes.

But the new design makes it impossible to carry out one particular ritual launched by the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, who had to relieve himself on the back wheel of the bus that was taking him to the launch pad in 1961.

The stop has been replicated at every launch from the Baikonur launch pad and, many male cosmonauts and astronauts pee on the tyre for good luck – something that would be impossible in the new suit, according to its maker. Female astronauts are not obligated to participate but some have brought vials of their urine to splash on the wheel instead.

“I’m not sure how they will be able to (carry on the tradition), since we haven’t designed the fly,” said the Zvezda director, Sergei Pozdnyakov, quoted by Russian agencies. “We have the design specifications. They don’t state that it’s necessary to pee on the wheel. The design specifications would need to be adapted.”

I suspect, knowing how important traditions and rituals are to the Russians, that the Russian government will require a design change to allow this tradition to continue.

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ISS atmosphere issue?

Though NASA and Roscosmos both say the crews are in no immediate danger, alarms on ISS have indicated an issue with the oxygen levels on the station.

“The crew and the space station are in no immediate danger and are continuing normal operations,” the spokesperson said. “The overall atmosphere inside the station remains will below the O2 concentration limits. Teams are working to identify the root cause of the issue,” he added.

This report states that the problem is “the high oxygen content in the air in the Russian Zvezda module.”

If the problem was a drop in atmospheric pressure, the issue would likely be more serious, and suggest a repeat of the 2018 leak caused by a hole drilled in a Soyuz capsule. That the problem instead is high oxygen levels, suggests something more benign.

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Russia’s Rockot launches military geodesic satellite

Russia today used its re-purposed ballistic missile, Rockot, to launch the second in a two-satellite constellation of military geodesic satellites, designed to more accurately map the Earth’s gravitational field.

This launch puts Russia in the lead in the annual race for most launches for the first time since 2018. It also gives them more launches for the year than they had predicted. Both facts demonstrate that their launch industry is showing a recovery from the problems experienced in 2016, when they discovered corruption in one of their main rocket engine companies, requiring the recall of all engines.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

14 Russia
13 China
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India
4 Rocket Lab
4 ULA

The U.S. still leads Russia in the national rankings, 19 to 14.

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Soyuz successfully docks to ISS on second attempt

An unmanned Soyuz capsule successfully docked to ISS tonight at a different docking port than the port where a failed component in the radar system caused the first attempt to be aborted two days ago.

This successful automatic docking confirms that the radar equipment on the other port was the problem. While manual manned dockings can occur there, the Russians will not be able to use it for unmanned Progress freighters until they get the faulty amplifier in the radar system fixed. To fix it will require a spare part and a spacewalk, and at the moment the Russians have said nothing about whether they have the part at the station.

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Russian astronauts move older Soyuz to clear port for new Soyuz

Russian astronauts today undocked their older Soyuz MS-13 Soyuz from its docking port and manually docked it to the port with the technical issue, thereby clearing a different but functioning port for the unmanned Soyuz MS-14 capsule that failed to dock last week.

From the report it sounds like the Russians also did a test during the manual docking of the problematic docking radar on the older port, but no information about this has been released.

The unmanned MS-14 Soyuz will now make its second automatic docking attempt tomorrow, using the the cleared port.

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Unmanned test Soyuz aborts docking to ISS

Astronauts on ISS were forced to abort the docking of an unmanned upgraded Soyuz capsule today when it appeared to have problems locking onto its docking port.

According to NASA, Soyuz MS-14 entered an orbit above and behind the ISS, which would bring the spacecraft back into the vicinity of the outpost 24 hours later. However within an hour after the failed docking, the mission control in Korolev told the ISS crew that the next docking attempt would not be made until at least August 26 after a series of tests. Head of flight operations in Korolev Vladimir Soloviev informed the cosmonauts that ground specialists had narrowed down a potential root cause of the failure during docking to a “bad signal amplifier” in the Kurs-P avionics system aboard the station. Soloviev instructed the crew to swap the suspected amplifier for a new one and then conduct a test of the Kurs-P system. Provided the ongoing analysis confirmed the initial failure scenario and the in-orbit tests went successfully, another rendezvous attempt could be made in around 48 hours, between 08:00 and 09:00 Moscow Time on August 26. Soloviev asked the crew members whether they knew where the components in question had been located to which the cosmonauts said that they had remembered it approximately but asked for reference photos to be sent to them.

Assuming this is the same docking port the Russians have used for previous Soyuz and Progress dockings, the amplifier would have had to fail since the last docking.

UPDATE: It appears that they are instead going to use a different Russian docking port on ISS for the second docking attempt, thereby bypassing the suspect docking system.

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Russia and ULA successfully complete rocket launches

Russia and ULA both successfully placed spacecraft into Earth orbit today.

Russia sent an unmanned upgrded Soyuz capsule to ISS, filled with cargo, in a test flight that also tested a new upgraded version of the Soyuz rocket.

According to Navias, this Soyuz launch is a critical shakedown flight to test the performance of the upgraded Soyuz capsule and the Soyuz 2.1a booster before the first crewed flight on the rocket in March 2020.

“The Soyuz 2.1a booster, equipped with a new digital flight control system and upgraded engines, is replacing the Soyuz FG booster that has been used for decades to launch crews into space,” NASA officials wrote in a statement. “The Soyuz spacecraft will have an upgraded motion control and navigation system, as well as a revamped descent control system,” they added.

The mission will also help Roscosmos develop a cargo version of the Soyuz capsule capable uncrewed reentry to return experiments and other gear to Earth, Navias said. Russia’s Progress cargo ships can currently only deliver supplies, and are filled with trash and discarded at the end of their missions.

ULA in turn launched an Air Force GPS satellite in the last launch of the Delta-4 Medium version of its Delta rocket family.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

13 China
13 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India
4 Rocket Lab
4 ULA

The U.S. leads Russia and China 19 to 13 in the national standings.

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ESA confirms ExoMars parachute test failure

You heard it hear first! The European Space Agency (ESA) today confirmed earlier stories from last week that the parachutes for its ExoMars 2020 spacecraft had failed during a high altitude drop test on August 5.

I reported this on Saturday, August 10, noting that ESA had not confirmed it. It apparently took them a week to write the press release.

This was the second consecutive test failure for these parachutes, as noted in the release.

On 28 May this year, the deployment sequence of all four parachutes was tested for the first time from a height of 29 km – released from a stratospheric helium balloon. While the deployment mechanisms activated correctly, and the overall sequence was completed, both main parachute canopies suffered damage.

Following hardware inspection, adaptations were implemented to the design of the parachutes and bags ready for the next high-altitude test, which was conducted on 5 August, this time just focusing on the larger, 35 m diameter, parachute.

Preliminary assessment shows that the initial steps were completed correctly, however damages to the canopy were observed prior to inflation, similar to the previous test. As a result, the test module descended under the drag of the pilot chute alone.

The tests occur at high altitude where the Earth’s atmosphere mimics the thin atmosphere of Mars. In both cases it appears the parachutes became damaged very early in their deployment process, possibly during deployment. This means there might be a design problem with the deployment process. It also means that both tests were unable to test the chutes themselves, as they were damaged before inflation, meaning that the engineers still do not know if they would work as intended once filled with air.

All this puts incredible time pressure on the mission, which needs to launch in the summer of 2020 to meet its launch window. There is very little time to redesign and retest these chutes. I would rate their chances of meeting that launch date as less than 50-50.

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Reports of another ExoMars parachute failure during test

Following a failure of ExoMars’ parachutes during a May test, there are now reports that a second failure occurred on August 5.

A fresh test of the parachute system for the Russian-European mission ExoMars-2020 have failed again as a structural mockup of the Russian-built lander crashed during the simulated landing, a source familiar with the test results told Sputnik.

The test with the use of a high-altitude balloon was carried out on August 5 at a Swedish Space Corporation’s test site in northern Sweden.

“Tests of the parachute system at the Esrange test site in Sweden failed. A full-size mockup of the landing module of the ExoMars-2020 Martian station crashed during the landing,” the source said.

I have seen this report in two other sites, but it has not yet been confirmed by the European Space Agency.

If these reports are true, the chances of ExoMars launching in July 2020 is likely almost nil. They haven’t even begun assembling the spacecraft, and have had two parachute failures in tests, with the second destroying the prototype used for those tests.

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Proton launches military communications satellite

A Russian Proton rocket today successfully launched a military communications satellite into orbit.

This was the third Proton launch this year, the most since 2017. It also put Russia in the lead for most launches in 2019, the first time that country has been in first since 2015:

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

The U.S. still leads Russia in the national rankings, 15-12.

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Hundreds arrested in Moscow demonstrating for open elections

Continuing protests in Moscow demanding the right of independent candidates to run for election have resulted in hundreds of arrests in the past week.

I am very much reminded of the protests that led to the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The difference is that then the government did little to stop them, and then allowed their candidates to run for office, sweeping the communists from power.

Now, Putin’s government seems to be following China’s approach to such protests, which cracked down hard against its own protests in the early 1990s and was thus able to stay in power.

Meanwhile in Hong Kong China is faced with its own new protest movement, now in its ninth week. At this moment China has held off using its full military power to stop the protests, but that might change soon. If so, things will get very bloody.

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Russia denies OneWeb permission to operate in Russia

Russian government agencies this week denied permission to OneWeb to operate and provide internet services within Russia, even though Russia is launching a large bulk of OneWeb’s satellite constellation.

One agency denied them permission to use certain radio frequencies. Another has said no because it claims the satellites could be used for espionage. The first denial, in 2017, came from Roscosmos, which is also the agency launching OneWeb’s satellites.

The latest refusal of OneWeb was a sign that the country’s authorities remain keen to continue tightening their control of internet access, said Prof Christopher Newman at Northumbria University.

“[Satellite internet] presents an existential strategic threat to their trying to limit internet activity within their boundaries,” he told the BBC. “There are going to be large swathes of Russian territory… that are going to become very dependent on internet from space.”

Russia continues its sad slide back to Soviet-style authoritarianism and poverty.

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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.

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Russia launches communications satellite

Using its Soyuz rocket the Russians today launched a satellite aimed at providing communications to Russia itself.

The satellite, while apparently providing civilian communications services, was a Russian government project. It is not commercial as we would define it in the west.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

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

The U.S. continues to lead China 15 to 11 in the national rankings. At the moment it also looks like Russia has a chance to top 20 launches in 2019, which would make this its best launch year since 2015. This suggests that they have finally begun to recover from the discovery in 2017 that an engine contractor was using substandard welding materials to pocket some extra cash, thus causing many launch failures.

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Soyuz launches new crew to ISS

The Russians today launched and docked a new crew to ISS using their Soyuz rocket and capsule.

This launch puts Russia ahead of SpaceX in the 2019 launch race, the first time Russia has been ahead of SpaceX in almost two years. It also puts Russia in a tie with China for the lead, also something that has not been the case in two years. The leaders:

9 China
9 Russia
8 SpaceX
5 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. still leads 14-9 over China and Russia in the national rankings.

Posted from the south rim of the Grand Canyon after our hike out today.

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Russia successfully launches Spektr-RG carrying two X-ray space telescopes

Russia today successfully used its Proton rocket to launch Spektr-RG, carrying two X-ray space telescopes.

Spektr-RG was first conceived in the 1990s, but got shelved then because Russia did not have the money to launch it. The project got revived in 2005 when the Germans came on to build one of the two telescopes.

“We had an ambitious plan for the project which didn’t correspond to the power of the country of that moment,” [lead scientist Mikhail] Pavlinsky told Spaceflight Now. “We decided to restart it with a smaller version.”

The Russian and German space agencies signed an agreement in 2009 to jointly develop the Spektr-RG mission, but the project faced additional schedule delays due to technical problems and a decision to switch the observatory from a Zenit launcher to a Proton rocket.

Designers also changed Spektr-RG’s observing location from an orbit around Earth to a looping trajectory around the L2 Lagrange point.

Spektr-RG is the largest Russian astronomy satellite to launch since the Spektr-R radio observatory in 2011. Spektr-R stopped responding to commands from the ground in January after exceeding its planned five-year mission lifetime, and Russian officials declared the mission over in April.

Spektr-RG’s planned mission is set for seven years.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

9 China
8 SpaceX
8 Russia
5 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. continues to lead China in the national rankings 14 to 9.

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Russian Soyuz rocket successfully launches 33 satellites into orbit

In its first Vostochny launch in 2019, Russia today used its Soyuz rocket to successfully launch a variety of weather, engineering, and Earth observation satellites totaling 33 into orbit.

As I write this the satellites are in orbit but have not yet been deployed by the rocket’s Fregat upper stage, a process that will take several hours as it moves them into a variety of orbits.

Many of the smaller satellites on this rockets are commercial cubesats, and are Russia’s effort to regain some of its lost commercial business that had been captured by SpaceX. They are also a sign of the changing launch business. Previously Russia’s commercial flights were all on its larger Proton rocket because the satellites were larger. Now the business is shifting to the smaller and recently more reliable Soyuz, because smaller satellites are beginning to dominate the industry.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

9 China
8 SpaceX
6 Russia
5 Europe (Arianespace)
3 India
3 Rocket Lab

The U.S. continues to lead China 14 to 9 in the national rankings.

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Update on planned Russian additions to ISS

Link here. The article describes present status of Russia’s new modules to ISS, along with their tentative launch dates in the early 2020s.

We should not take these dates too seriously. Russia is literally decades behind schedule in launching this stuff. Whether they can finally get them in orbit now, with their present shortage in cash, remains unknown.

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Roscosmos creates new design bureau to build reusable rocket

The Russian bureaucracy marches on! Roscosmos has formed a new design bureau, dubbed Bartini after Italian-born Soviet-era aircraft designer Robert Bartini, to build a new reusable rocket

The article says this rocket will be “based on the preliminary design of the Krylo-SV (Wing) project.” I cannot find any references anywhere for such a project, though this webpage notes that a test pilot for the Soviet Buran shuttle worked in 1999 for a “Krylo Company.” I suspect this was one of the many failed attempts to form a private space company after the fall of the Soviet Union, and it had produced designs for a reusable winged spacecraft, which is why that test pilot had worked for them. (It likely failed because the big already existing organizations in Russia teamed up with the government to squelch this new competition.)

Regardless, it appears that Russia is going to dust off those plans. Note that this new organization is a top-down creation, not a new independent company. I expect therefore that its biggest goal is to provide jobs. Whether it gets much built is another story.

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India hires Russia to train its astronauts

The new colonial movement: India’s space agency ISRO has hired the Russians to train its astronauts for its first home-built manned mission, Gaganyaan, presently scheduled to fly in 2022.

This decision makes a lot of sense. First, the space programs of Russia and India have cooperated a lot in the past, with Russia launch India’s first astronaut on a Soyuz in 1984. Second, Russia has a great deal of experience training new astronauts from other countries, including tourists. Third, neither of the other countries with manned programs, the U.S. and China, have established systems for this kind of training. China has never training any outsiders, and NASA’s systems for this are not designed for efficiency. Moreover, it has been eight years since the U.S. put anyone in space. If I was India I would prefer using someone with recent experience.

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Vostochny contractor charged with embezzlement avoids jail

The new colonial movement: The contractor who embezzled almost $6.5 million from the Vostochny spaceport project in Russia has avoided jail time, getting merely a suspended sentence and and a $3,000 fine.

Viktor Grebnev, who headed the TMK contractor until it was declared bankrupt 2015, was accused of knowingly signing loss-making contracts and using company money to buy yachts and a mansion.

A district court in Far East Russia handed Grebnev a five-year suspended sentence and fined him 200,000 rubles ($3,000) for large-scale embezzlement, Interfax cited the court as saying.

It appears from this story that the corruption in Russia remains as strong as ever, which bodes poorly for its future in space. Space engineering is hard. If you allow any dishonesty to linger around it you are guaranteed to have something go wrong.

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Soyuz has problem during return to Earth

In returning three astronauts safely to Earth yesterday from ISS the Soyuz spacecraft experienced a technical problem immediately after its engines had fired, causing it to go to a backup system.

Moments after the completion of the braking maneuver, the emergency signal was heard inside the Descent Module and the communications between the crew and mission control discussed a failure of the first manifold in the integrated propulsion system of the Soyuz spacecraft and the switch to the second manifold. Kononenko first reported K1B (Manifold DPO-B) emergency at 05:02:54 Moscow Time and subsequently confirmed a switch to the second manifold. NASA later confirmed the problem, but did not provide any details.

There is no explanation what the “first manifold” is, though I suspect it is a direct translation from Russian for their term for a primary system. That the system automatically switched to its back-up is a good thing. That there was a failure of the primary system is not.

Once again, this raises more questions about the quality control throughout Russia’s aerospace industry. While so far none of the recent Soyuz problems, which have also included a launch abort and a still-unexplained drilled hole, have caused a loss of life. I fear that soon or later they will.

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Battery screw-up delays Russian X-Ray telescope launch

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.

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