Tag Archives: Russia

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.

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Investigation forces retraction of 800+ Russian science papers

An investigation by Russia’s Academy of Sciences has forced the retraction of more than 800 Russian science papers, many for plagiarism.

The RAS commission’s preliminary report documenting the problems and journals’ responses to them is “a bombshell,” says Gerson Sher, a former staffer at the U.S. National Science Foundation and the author of a recent book on U.S.-Russia science cooperation. The report, released yesterday, “will reinforce the suspicions and fears of many—that their country is not going down the right path in science and that it’s damaging its own reputation,” says Sher, who applauds RAS for commissioning the investigation.

Russia’s roughly 6000 academic journals, the vast majority published in Russian, are popular among the country’s academics. A 2019 study found that Russian authors publish far more in domestic journals than, for instance, their counterparts in Poland, Germany, or Indonesia. But standards are often low. In March 2018, for instance, Dissernet, a network aimed at cleaning up the Russian literature, identified more than 4000 cases of plagiarism and questionable authorship among 150,000 papers in about 1500 journals.

And Russian authors frequently republish their own work, says Yury Chekhovich, CEO of Antiplagiat, a plagiarism detection company. In September 2019, after sifting through 4.3 million Russian-language studies, Antiplagiat found that more than 70,000 were published at least twice; a few were published as many as 17 times. Chekhovich believes most instances are due to self-plagiarism. Meanwhile, the website 123mi.u claims to have brokered authorships for more than 10,000 researchers by selling slots on manuscripts written by others that were already accepted by journals.

In many ways this report reflects the overall corruption that appears to permeate the upper echelons of Russian culture. Rather than do real science and report it to the world, Russian scientists publish in Russian in ways that get them in-house promotions but do little to advance science.

That this investigation was conducted by the Russian Academy of Sciences however is a positive sign. It indicates a desire to clean things up.

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The state of the global rocket industry in 2019

With 2019 ending, it is time once again (as I did for 2016, 2017, and 2018) to review the trends in the global launch industry for the past year.

Below is my updated graph, showing the launch numbers for 2019 as well as for every year going back to 1990, just before the fall of the Soviet Union. That range I think covers all recent trends, while also giving some perspective on what happened in 2019.

The graph is worth reviewing at length, as it not only gives a sense of recent trends, it also summarizes well the history of the entire global space industry during the past thirty years. For example, it shows the transition in the U.S. in the past two decades from government-owned launchers to private rockets, a change that has revitalized the American space industry in more ways than be counted.
» Read more

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Russia’s population to shrink?

The coming dark age: According to a report from Russia’s national statistics office, the country’s population could drop by as much as 12 million by 2035.

The report outlined three scenarios, based on present trends, with only the most optimistic predicting any population increase, though even that saw population growing by only about four million by 2035. Meanwhile, the numbers the last two years were stark:

Russia’s overall population dropped for the first time in a decade last year, totaling 146.8 million as migration inflows hit record lows. It totaled 146.7 million so far in 2019, the State Statistics Service Rosstat said this month, as Russia experienced its highest natural population decline in 11 years.

These numbers are very disturbing, for they carry terrible consequences for both Russia and the rest of the world.

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Rockot launches three communications satellites

The last Russian Rockot this morning successfully placed three communications satellites and a cubesat into orbit.

The Russians are abandoning Rockot, a repurposed ballistic missile, because it uses Ukrainian hardware.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

32 China
22 Russia
13 SpaceX
8 Arianespace (Europe)

China still leads the U.S. 32 to 27 in the national rankings. At this moment no other launches are scheduled for 2019, though an unannounced military launch could still happen.

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Russia’s Proton launches weather satellite

Russia today used the Proton-M version of their Proton rocket to place a geosynchronous weather satellite into orbit.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

31 China
21 Russia
13 SpaceX
8 Arianespace (Europe)

China still leads the U.S. 31 to 27 in the national rankings.

Right now there are only two more launches scheduled for 2019, a Russian Rockot launch and China’s third launch of its big Long March 5 rocket. Look for my global launch report for 2019 soon after the New Year.

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Soyuz rocket launches five satellites for Arianespace

A Russian Soyuz rocket, launching from French Guiana for Arianespace, successfully placed five satellites in orbit early this morning, including CHEOPS, a European space telescope designed to study exoplanets.

Though this was a Russian rocket, I count it as an Arianespace launch as that is the company under which the launch operates. I also realize this is open to debate.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

30 China
20 Russia
13 SpaceX
8 Arianespace (Europe)

China still leads the U.S. 30 to 26 in the national rankings.

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Russia and India launch satellites

Two launches since yesterday. First, Russia used its Soyuz-2 rocket to place another GPS-type Glonass satellite into orbit. This was Russia’s 20th successful launch in 2019, the first time that country has hit that number since 2015.

Then India used its PSLV rocket to launch a military radar reconnaissance satellite.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

29 China
20 Russia
12 SpaceX
7 Europe (Arianespace)
6 Rocket Lab
6 India

China remains the leader in the national rankings, 29 to 25 over the U.S.

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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.

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Russians launch military satellite

Using a Soyuz-2 rocket the Russians today successfully launched a classified military satellite from its spaceport in Plesetsk.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

26 China
18 Russia
11 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

China continues to lead the U.S. in the national rankings, 26 to 23.

These numbers will change again later today if Arianespace successfully launches two communications satellites. They have been trying to launch now for three days, but minor technical problems and weather have stymied them.

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“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.

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Putin slams Roscosmos for continuing corruption at Vostochny

At a meeting yesterday Russian President Vladimir Putin blasted Roscosmos for the corruption at the new spaceport at Vostochny, noting that despite the prosecution of numerous individuals the criminal behavior continues.

Russian President Putin said at a government meeting on Monday that dozens of criminal cases and jailings had failed to stem theft at the Vostochny spaceport construction site….

“It has been stated a hundred times: you must work transparently because large funds are allocated. This project is actually of the national scope! But, despite this, hundreds of millions, hundreds of millions [of rubles] are stolen! Several dozen criminal cases have been opened, the courts have already passed verdicts and some are serving their prison terms. However, things have not been put in order there the way it should have been done,” the Russian president said.

This article notes that out of $1.4 billion allocated for the spaceport, $169 million has been stolen. It does not however provide any details about any new corruption. Instead, it outlines the investigations and prosecutions that have already taken place.

According to Peskov, “at the first stage, 128 criminal cases were opened, which were later consolidated into 32 criminal cases and at the next stage the Investigative Committee singled out 21 cases and transferred them to the court of law and 18 persons were sentenced at the time,” Peskov said. “The Interior Ministry investigated 8 more cases,” he added.

Either Roscosmos officials revealed to Putin newly discovered corruption that the state-run press has been forbidden to discuss, or Putin’s criticism was aimed to discouraging future corruption.

Either way, Vostochny remains a typical government boondoggle. It has cost Russia far more than it should, and construction has been slow, beginning officially in 2012, though Russia has been working on it in fits and starts since the mid-2000s.

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Russia ships three more engines to U.S. for ULA’s rockets

Russia announced yesterday that it has delivered three more RD-180 engines to ULA for use in its Atlas 5 rocket.

The article notes that this contract, as well as the contract with Northrop Grumman to make RD-181 engines for the Antares rocket, both end in December 2019. While ULA has said it plans to replace the Russia engine with Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine (still under development), it is not clear what Northrop Grumman will do.

In both cases, Russia has delivered enough engines to cover launches for the next few years. This will give Blue Origin time to complete development of the BE-4. As for Antares, the lack of its Russian engine, combined with its inability to obtain any customers other than NASA, could spell the end of that rocket once Northrop Grumman has used up its engine stockpile.

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Turkey negotiating with Russia to train its future astronauts

Turkey might not have yet established its space program, nor have any announced intention of sending anyone into space, but it is presently negotiating with Russia to send any of its future astronauts to Russia for training.

Turkey has confirmed its intention to send astronauts to Russia for training, as follows from a report uploaded to the website of the Russian space corporation Roscosmos on Thursday following a working meeting between Roscosmos CEO Dmitry Rogozin and Turkey’s Ambassador to Russia Mehmet Samsar.

“The Turkish side confirmed its original plans for having its astronauts trained in the Star City,” the news release runs. “In the conversation topical issues concerning mutually beneficial cooperation in space were discussed. The two sides noted the great potential and importance of this theme in relations between the two countries,” the news release adds.

Earlier, the Roscosmos CEO said a Turkish astronaut might go to the International Space Station in 2021-2023.

Roscosmos right now is the only place in the world that has an established program for training astronauts, and it is clearly trying to make itself the go-to place for this service. This in turn gives Russia a big advantage in any worldwide competition for flying tourists or international governmental astronauts. If Turkey for example needs to choose between buying astronaut tickets on SpaceX or Roscosmos, it will lean toward Roscosmos because that was where its astronauts were trained.

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Proton flies last commercial mission

Scheduled for retirement by Russia and having its entire commercial business taken by SpaceX, Russia’s Proton rocket today successfully launched its last commercial mission.

The primary payload was a European communications satellite. The secondary payload is more significant as it is Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1), designed to grab defunct satellites that are out of fuel and bring them back to life using its own fuel and engines.

The docking mechanism of the MEV spacecraft allows it to link up with a spacecraft which carries no specialized rendezvous and docking hardware. According to Northrop Grumman, MEV, can use its proximity sensors and docking hardware to reliably attach itself to 80 percent of typical satellites deployed in geostationary orbit. The developer also said that after completing the work assisting the first spacecraft, the MEV vehicle could be undocked and moved multiple times during its more than 15-year operational life span to support satellites from other customers.

They plan to revive one of Intelsat’s satellites and operate it for five years.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

19 China
17 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. and China remain tied at 19 in the national rankings.

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Russia strips Sea Launch platform of foreign equipment

In an effort to get the U.S. government to allow them to transport the Sea Launch platform from California to a Russia port in the far east, the Russians have now stripped the platform of all Boeing and Ukrainian equipment.

Originally built by a partnership of Russia, Ukraine, and Boeing, the platform is supposedly now owned by S7, a Russian airline company, but in truth it is controlled entirely by the Russian government, which wishes to refit it to launch the new Soyuz-5 rocket they are now developing.

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NASA in negotiations to buy more Russian Soyuz astronaut seats

Collusion with Russia discovered! NASA has begun negotiations with Russia’s Roscosmos space agency to buy more astronaut flights to ISS using Russia’s Soyuz rocket and capsule.

According to the story at the link, NASA’s last purchased ticket will fly in March of 2020, and these negotiations would buy flights beginning in the fall of 2020 and beyond into 2021. The story also cites statements by NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine to CNN, confirming these negotiations.

Apparently NASA thinks the manned capsules being built by Boeing and SpaceX will not be ready by the fall of 2020, and needs to buy tickets from Russia because of this.

However, the only reason those American capsules will not have been approved and flown by then will be because NASA’s timidity in approving their launch. The agency’s safety panel as well as its management have repeatedly delayed these private American capsules, sometimes for very strange reasons, including a demand that lots of paperwork be filled out, and what I consider to be an unjustified demand for perfect safety.

Had NASA adopted a reasonable criteria for launch, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule could have flown three years ago.

Meanwhile, NASA seems quite willing to put Americans on a Soyuz rocket, launched by a foreign power whose safety record in the past half decade has been spotty, at best. In that time Russia has experienced numerous quality control problems, including mistakes that led to an Soyuz abort during a launch and a Soyuz parachute failure during a landing, corruption that forced them to recall all rocket engines and freeze launches for almost a year, and sabotage where someone drilled a hole in a Soyuz capsule prior to launch, a sabotage that Russia still refuses to explain.

It is unconscionable for NASA to favor putting Americans on a Soyuz with many documented safety issues, but block the launch of Americans on American-made capsules, for imagined safety issues that have mostly made no sense. In fact, the contrast makes me wonder about the loyalty of NASA’s bureaucracy. They certainly seem to favor Russia and Roscosmos over private American companies.

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UAE astronaut completes telecast to UAE

The new colonial movement: The first astronaut from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) yesterday completed his fifth day in orbit on ISS, answering questions from students during two telecasts.

The goal from the start for this mission was to encourage a new space agency in the UAE, thus diversifying its economy. These telecasts are clearly aimed at doing that.

His flight is about half over.

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Russia to reduce manned missions to ISS in 2020

According to a Roscosmos, Russia will halve the number of manned Soyuz missions it will fly to ISS in 2020, from the normal four per year that they have been doing since 2009 to only two.

The article provides little additional detail, other than those two flights will be in the second and fourth quarters of the year, and that there will be three Progress freighter launches as well.

In May the Russians had announced that NASA had agreed to buy two more astronaut tickets on Soyuz. Since then there have been two manned launches, one of which I think was covered by this purchase. If not, then both launches next year are to launch Americans to ISS, and that Russia will not launch otherwise.

Either way this information tells us two things. First, NASA is probably getting very close to finally approving the manned flights of Dragon and Starliner, after many delays by their safety panel.

Second, Russia’s reduction in launches suggests that they are short of funds, and can’t launch often without someone buying a ticket. It is unclear what they will do when the U.S. is no longer a customer. I suspect they will fly the minimum number of crew in the fewest flights while still allowing them to maintain their portion of the station. Periodically they will likely add a flight, when they sell a ticket to either a tourist or to another foreign country, as they are doing right now with an Soyuz-flown astronaut from the United Arab Emirates.

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Soyuz launches military surveillance satellite

Russia today completed its second Soyuz launch in twenty-four hours, launching the third in a constellation of military satellites designed to detect incoming missiles.

With this launch Russia has topped its total from 2018, and looks very likely finish the year with the most launches since 2016.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

18 China
16 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. continues to lead China 19 to 18 in the national rankings.

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Proton commercial launch delayed

One of the last few commercial launches for Russia’s Proton rocket has been delayed because the satellite “was not attached correctly to the upper stage.”

This is likely not as serious a blunder as the story makes it sounds. They had detected some “electromagnetic interference” in the upper stage’s control system during prechecks, which suggests a wire got crossed somewhere.

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Three launches today, including launch of three astronauts and UAE’s first spaceman

Three launches today, by China, Japan, and Russia. China launched a Yunhai-1 weather satellite using its Long March 2D rocket. Japan in turn successfully launched, on its second attempt, its HTV cargo freighter to ISS. This was Japan’s second launch this year.

Finally, Russia has just successfully put three astronauts into orbit using its Soyuz rocket, including the first astronaut of the United Arab Emirates.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

18 China
15 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. lead over China in the national rankings is now 19 to 18.

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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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