Tag Archives: Russia

Problem found with Angara’s most powerful version

The new colonial movement: Engineers of the most powerful variant of Russia’s next generation Angara family of rockets, the Angara A5, have found a serious design issue in the engines that they appear to be having problems solving.

The issue with the Angara A5 was brought to attention by scientists at rocket engine manufacturer Energomash in a paper ahead of a space conference later this month.

The paper, reported by RIA news agency on Friday and published online, said the engines of the Angara A5 could produce low frequency oscillations that could ultimately destroy the rocket.

A special valve had been fitted to mitigate the issue, but in some cases the oscillations continued, it said. Energomash did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

This sounds to me like “pogo,” a somewhat common issue with rockets. A resonance builds up within the engines during launch, and the vibration can grow strong enough to cause serious damage. The Saturn 5 had this issue during its second test launch, requiring a redesign of the upper stage engine hydrogen fuel lines.

With this history in mind, I would still not make that much of a big deal about this issue. The Angara A5 is a new rocket. It simply needs testing in flight followed by engineering revisions to work out these kinks.

The problem will be Russia’s government. Putin wants this rocket flying, for his own political purposes, and the question remains whether he will allow its proper engineering development to proceed at the correct pace. This does not mean development should be slow, but that failure is accepted and allowed for while you maintain a fast pace.

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Russia faces launchpad bottleneck in 2020

Because of the decommissioning of one of their two Soyuz launchpads at Baikonur in late 2019, the Russians will have a significant launchpad bottleneck in 2020.

According to the official, the so-called Gagarin’s Start launch launchpad at the site number 1 would be put out of exploitation due to the upcoming decommissioning of the Soyuz-FG rocket.

The source noted that a large number of Soyuz launches planned for 2020 was related to the implementation of the OneWeb internet satellite constellation project, which would require up to eight launches. Moreover, from five to seven launches of manned missions on Soyuz and Progress spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS), as well as several launches of unmanned spacecraft have been planned.

The source continued by saying there was a “bottleneck” in the capacity of the testing facility at the launch site 31, which amounted to 15 rockets per year.

It appears that this limitation of 15 launches per year is going to put a crimp on something. Since the Russians will make money on the OneWeb launches, those will get first priority. What next? The unnamed additional launches almost certainly include some military satellites, as well as communications, Glonass GPS, and Earth resource satellites needed by Russia. Will they get sacrificed to maintain Russian launches to ISS? If the U.S. is no longer flying our astronauts on their rockets and paying them for it, I can see them cutting back here to fly some of those other satellites.

Either way, for Russia to be cutting back on launch sites at a time when the rocket industry appears to be booming is a clear sign of big problems there. I suspect that they had intended the Vostochny spaceport to pick up this slack, but the corruption and delays there apparently make that impossible. Moreover, they have lost most of their commercial business, and appear unable to figure out ways to recapture it.

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Russian Soyuz launches 28 satellites

A Russian Soyuz rocket today launched 28 satellites, the bulk of which were commercial smallsats.

The primary payload was two Russian Earth observations satellites.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

37 China
21 SpaceX
15 Russia
11 Europe (Arianespace)
8 ULA

This should close out Russia’s launch total for the year, that country’s lowest yearly total since the very beginnings of the space age in the 1960s.

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Russia’s Proton launches military satellite

Russia today successfully launched a military communications satellite using its Proton rocket.

This was only the second Proton launch this year, a rocket that was once Russia’s commercial workhorse with a launch rate more akin to what SpaceX has today.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

35 China
20 SpaceX
14 Russia
11 Europe (Arianespace)
8 ULA

China leads the U.S. in the national rankings, 35 to 33.

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Drilled Soyuz returns three astronauts from ISS

Three astronauts successfully returned to Earth today, using the descent module of the Soyuz capsule whose now abandoned orbital module had been found to have a drill hole.

They are bringing back the samples of the exterior patchwork of the drill hole, obtained during a spacewalk on December 11. Hopefully we will know a bit more about this apparent sabotage soon.

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Launchpad contractor at Vostochny in legal and financial trouble

The launchpad contractor hired to build the Angara launchpad at Russia’s new spaceport in Vostochny has serious legal and financial troubles, including lawsuits for nonpayment and non-completion of work.

I have nothing to say, other than this seems entirely par for the course.

Posted in warm, sunny, and dry Tucson, having finally returned from two weeks of travel to New York and Israel.

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Russian astronauts complete spacewalk to inspect drill hole

Two Russian astronauts yesterday successfully completed a difficult spacewalk aimed at inspecting the drill hole that had been found on the Soyuz capsule on ISS.

Around midnight in Moscow (4 p.m. EST), the cosmonauts began cleaning the work place to prepare tackling the micro-meteoroid shielding, which turned out to be easier than work with soft insulation. In around 10 minutes, they cut and peeled off a segment of the shielding, but it took them a few minutes to actually see the hole at the edge of the exposed area and they had to cut a second smaller piece of meteoroid shielding.

They improvised an attempt to pick black material extruding from the hole with forceps, but it was very difficult to do in bulky spacesuit and due to the brittle nature of the material. Around six hours into the spacewalk, they finally proceeded with a pre-planned sampling operation.

The spacewalk was so hard because they were working on the outside of the Soyuz capsule in an area where no spacewalk was ever planned. No handholds. They had to bring them with them, and attach them.

No word yet on any conclusions about the drill hole.

Posted from Buffalo, NY. I am finally back from Israel, only to end up in a very cold and snowy place, not my favorite environments. No matter. There is a lecture for me to give tonight.

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Russian Soyuz successfully launches three astronauts

A Russian Soyuz rocket today successfully launched three astronauts on a mission to ISS, less than two months after an early launch had resulted in a launch abort.

Hopefully by the end of 2019 American astronauts will no longer have to rely on Russian rockets for their access to space.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

33 China
18 SpaceX
13 Russia
9 Europe (Arianespace)
8 ULA

China remains ahead of the U.S. in the national rankings, 33 to 30.

All these numbers will change repeatedly in the next few days, as their are a number of launches scheduled, including a SpaceX launch later today, when they will attempt, for the first time, to reuse a first stage for the third time.

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Unidentified object launched by Russians Nov 30?

Even though the Russians officially listed four objects launched during its November 30 launch, three military satellites and the rocket’s upper stage, the U.S. military says it has identified a fifth object.

The Rokot/Briz-KM launch vehicle blasted off from Pad 3 at Site 133 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Western Russia at just before 5:30 PM local time on Nov. 30, 2018, according to RussianSpaceWeb.com. At approximately 7:12 PM, the three Rodnik communications satellites had deployed into their assigned orbits. Russia has named the trio of satellites Kosmos-2530, Kosmos-2531, and Kosmos-2532.

This would all be rather banal had the CSpoC, as well as the U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), not recorded the launch slightly differently. Information on Space-Track.org, a U.S. government website that publicly releases data on space launches from the CSpoC and NORAD, listed Objects A through E as resulting from the launch from Plesetsk. This would include the three satellites and the upper stage, but the fifth object is unexplained.

It is possible that the upper stage simply fragmented into multiple pieces that were large enough for the U.S. military to track independently. Three of the objects – A through C – have essentially same perigee, the point in their orbit at which they are nearest to the earth. The other two objects – D and E – share a different general perigee.

The article speculates that this extra unidentified object might be part of Russia’s military program to develop tiny “inspector satellites” that can get close to other satellites and observe them, for both engineering and reconnaissance reasons. If so, this would be a significant violation by the Russians of the Outer Space Treaty, which requires them to list every object they launch. It would also be something they have not done before, which is why I am doubtful about this speculation. Though they are skilled at keeping their military space work secret, they have also obeyed this treaty scrupulously since the day they signed it. If they have decided they can get away with launching objects without listing them officially, then that means the treaty is showing its first signs of collapse, something I believe will happen more and more in the coming years as nations and private companies find themselves increasingly restrained by the unrealistic terms of the treaty.

Posted from Buffalo, New York. I stay here tonight, and go on to Israel tomorrow evening, which means I will be posting tomorrow during the day, and will be able to see the SpaceX launch and OSIRIS-REx’s arrival at Bennu.

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Russia launches three military communications satellites

Russia today used one of its three remaining Rokot rockets to launch three military communications satellites.

They no longer make Rokot because it uses Ukrainian equipment.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

33 China
18 SpaceX
12 Russia
9 Europe (Arianespace)
8 ULA

China remains ahead of the U.S. 33 to 30 in the national rankings.

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Investigators uncover extensive corruption in Roscosmos

An investigation of Roscosmos by Russian prosecutors has revealed extensive violations of law, all of which occurred in only the last year and a half.

The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office has detected systemic legal violations in the work of State Space Corporation, Roscosmos, between 2017 and the first half of 2018. In total, 1,700 violations had been revealed, Official Spokesman Alexander Kurennoy said, adding that 16 criminal cases had been launched.

“During the period between 2017 and the first six months of 2018, documents on the activities conducted by the previous management of Roscosmos had been reviewed. Systemic violations of the law had been detected, particularly regarding the state’s defense procurement, with research and development work having been conducted improperly. This also concerns the area linked to state-of-the-art engineering, and where work on registering patents on intellectual property is carried out, they had been often disrupted. This includes the deadline of defense missions, where evidence of poor-quality products being supplied had been revealed,” he told reporters.

Furthermore, prosecutors had revealed violations of procurement legislation, namely when it comes to pricing and import substitution. “Also, the situation in the rocket and space industry in general was deemed unsatisfactory since the corporation hadn’t enacted the required controls for the appropriate expenditure of budget funds by all of the enterprises’ branches,” Kurennoy stressed.

I expect this situation in Russia will get far worse, as the corruption is a feature, not a bug, in their government-run centralized aerospace industry.

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Moon rocks for sale!

Several rocks brought back from the Moon by a Soviet unmanned spacecraft will be auctioned off on November 29, and you can buy them legally!

The lunar samples were originally presented by the Soviet government to Nina Ivanovna Koroleva, the widow of Sergei Korolev, the “Chief Designer” of the Russian space program. Under Korolev’s direction, the Soviet Union successfully put the world’s first satellite into Earth orbit and launched the first human into space. His unexpected death in 1966 came before he could see the outcome of the space race to the moon.

Four years after Korolev died, the Soviets launched Luna 16, the first of three robotic lunar sample return missions. Touching down after the U.S. Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 astronauts had come and gone from the moon, Luna 16 deployed an extendable arm to drill and extract a core sample 14 inches (35 centimeters) deep. The 3.5 ounces (101 grams) of soil and rocks that it collected were then deposited into a capsule for their return to Earth.

The display gifted to Koroleva contains three grains of the Luna 16 material, weighing about 0.0007 ounces (0.2 grams). The central fragment is basalt, typical of the moon’s mare (or “seas”) terrain while the adjoining two larger fragments are regolith with glass coatings caused by an micrometeoroid impact, according to Sotheby’s.

…In 1993, the lunar samples were estimated to sell for $30,000 to $50,000 before commanding eight times the higher valuation. The display, which has been held in the same private American collection for the past quarter century, is now expected to sell for $700,000 to $1 million.

I will not be surprised if this item sells for considerably more than $1 million.

Hat tip Wayne DeVette.

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Corruption at Vostochny included more than 140 criminal cases

A report from Russia today outlined the total amount of corruption so far uncovered by investigators at Russia’s new spaceport in Vostochny.

“Since 2014, more than 140 criminal cases have been opened, and the damage was assessed at 10 bln rubles,” Kurennoy said in an interview with the Efir Internet channel of the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office. According to the spokesman, 50 individuals have been sentenced, and this year sentences for 27 people were announced.

The prosecutors have revealed 17,000 law violations during the construction since 2014. More than 1,000 people have been held accountable, including officials. Among the violations were delayed construction, multibillion embezzlement of state funds and the administration’s negligence.

Despite four years of investigation they still found 78 new law violations involving 140 companies in 2018.

It appears Russia does not know how to do capitalism properly. It doesn’t simply require a company to be privately owned. It also requires that new companies be allowed to compete, and that old companies can go out of business. Russia it appears did not understand these latter points. After the fall of the Soviet Union many individuals formed private companies from former government agencies and organizations, but then they divided up the market into territories and teamed up with the government to block any new entries.

The result of this corrupt system was rampant corruption, where the companies in power could do anything, with no incentive to produce good product.

Unfortunately, Russia’s answer to this has been for the government to take over the companies again.This will not solve their problem, merely shift the corruption from the companies to the government. Meanwhile, the quality of their aerospace products will continue to decline, resulting in the continued loss of international market share.

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Soyuz launch failed pinned to “unintentional error”

The Russian investigation into the October 11 Soyuz launch abort has said that the failure of the valve to open was likely caused by an “unintentional error.”

The abortive launch of a Soyuz-FG carrier rocket in early October might have been caused by an unintentional error made during the rocket’s assembly at the Baikonur space center, head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin said on Monday.

“There are two cranes there [in the assembly shop]. Probably they did something wrong. Most likely it was an unintentional error but we are looking at all possibilities,” he said, adding that neither of the shop’s workers has been suspended from work as of now, since it is up to law enforcement agencies to identify those responsible.

I remain very confident Roscosmos will figure out what went wrong and address the specific issue that caused it. I also remain very confident Roscosmos will do little to change the culture that is causing these repeated unforced errors and technical failures throughout their entire space industry. There is no competition right now within Russia’s space industry. Everything functions at the will of government policy and power politics, a very bad system for discouraging poor workmanship.

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Soyuz rocket successfully launches Progress freighter

A Russian Soyuz rocket today successfully launched a Progress freighter to ISS.

While Russia has already successfully launched three Soyuz rockets since the manned Soyuz launch abort on October 11, this was the first to use the same exact variation of the Soyuz rocket. It is expected they will now approve the manned December 3rd manned launch to ISS.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

31 China
18 SpaceX
11 Russia
8 ULA
8 Europe (Arianespace)

China continues to lead the U.S. in the national rankings, 31 to 29.

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Russian company S7 says it will launch in three years

The Russian airline company S7 that now owns Sea Launch said today that it will launch a new rocket in three years.

The first rocket the company S7 Space is working on at the moment may take place in three years from now, the company’s chief, Sergey Sopov, told TASS in an interview, adding that the launch would be used for flight-testing a cargo spacecraft.

S7 Space is working on its own rocket on the basis of a sketch design of the Soyuz-5 launch vehicle being created by the space rocket corporation Energia.

“When we launch our new rocket for the first time, approximately in three years from now, we also plan to flight-test a cargo spacecraft. Roscosmos might order six space launches from us, thus keeping busy both its own enterprises and S7 Space,” Sopov said.

S7 originally was reworking the Sea Launch rocket so that it was built entirely in Russia, and had said it would resume flights by 2019 with twelve scheduled through 2022. Now it appears they have been hired by Roscosmos to build an entirely new launch vehicle and cargo freighter, in imitation of the U.S. approach to have private companies build its space rockets and craft.

Regardless, this is not encouraging. It indicates more delays, and it also suggests that S7 is not really in control of its future but has to take orders from Roscosmos.

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Soyuz from French Guiana successfully launches weather satellite

A Russian Soyuz rocket tonight successfully launched a European weather satellite from French Guiana.

This success once again indicates that the manned Soyuz launch in December to ISS can take place as scheduled.

Though this was a Russian rocket, I count it as a Arianespace launch, as it is launched from their launchpad. Arianespace is also the operator and sales agent for the rocket. Obviously, this is open to interpretation.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

31 China
17 SpaceX
10 Russia
8 ULA
8 Europe (Arianespace)

China remains the leader in the national rankings, 31 to 26 over the U.S.

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Russia launches another Soyuz, placing GPS-type satellite in orbit

Russia today successfully placed a Glonass GPS-type satellite in orbit using a variation of its Soyuz rocket.

This is the second launch of a Soyuz since the October 11 manned launch failure. Though both launches used versions different from the October 11 rocket, the first stage strap-on boosters as well as second core stage were the same, providing strong proof that the December manned launch to ISS can go on as planned.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

31 China
17 SpaceX
10 Russia
8 ULA
7 Europe (Arianespace)

China still leads the U.S. 31 to 26 in the national rankings.

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Russians say Soyuz sensor was damaged in manufacture

The Russians yesterday revealed that the sensor they have identified as the cause of the October 11 Soyuz launch failure was damaged during manufacture.

Their response:

Skorobogatov said officials are now taking steps, including putting all assembly staff through competence tests and additional training, to make sure such malfunctions don’t happen again.

The rocket producer will also take apart two other rockets that have been recently assembled and are due to launch in the coming weeks and then re-assemble them, Skorobogatov said.

They do not say how the damage occurred. It also appears that, like all government run operations, no one will be fired. (The Russians only fire people when they are going to criminally indict them.)

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Russia releases video of October Soyuz launch, showing failed strap-on release

Russia has released video from the outside of its Soyuz rocket during the failed October 11 Soyuz launch, showing one of the rocket’s four strap-on boosters not releasing properly.

The key moment of the video, embedded below, is at 1:25. The booster on the left does not appear to release at its top. The article at the link says the Russians now believe that a failed sensor prevented the opening of a valve that would allow the venting of oxygen to push the booster away.

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Russia to disassemble the next Soyuz rocket scheduled for launch

In order to make sure it was assembled correctly and will separate properly, Russian engineers plan to disassemble the four strap-on boosters of the next scheduled Soyuz rocket and then put it back together for its November launch.

I wonder however if they are studying this assembly process to figure out why the manned Soyuz rocket that failed on October 11 was assembled badly so that they can revise that process. It sounds like they are merely checking to make sure the rocket is put together right, without figuring out what went wrong.

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Russian Soyuz rocket launches military satellite

Only two weeks since a Soyuz rocket failure during a manned launch the Russians have resumed Soyuz launches with the lift-off today of a military reconnaissance satellite from their Plesetsk spaceport.

The article provides this extra piece of information about the failure two weeks ago:

While investigations into the failure have not yet concluded, initial reports have suggested that one of the four boosters that comprise the first stage of Soyuz failed to separate cleanly. This is believed to have made contact with the second stage, puncturing one of its propellant tanks and throwing the rocket out of control.

This resulted in thrust termination – the rocket’s engines being shut down as a safety measure – and triggered the spacecraft’s automated abort mechanism.

No root cause has been announced. However, speculation initially pointed at a failure of a valve to open that would have vented residual oxidizer from the booster, pushing it away from the vehicle.

Later reports have suggested that the booster was installed incorrectly when the rocket was assembled – having been forced into a mounting lug that was bent out of shape in the process. A similar anomaly reportedly occurred during an unmanned launch in March 1986. The Russian State Commission into the MS-10 failure is expected to deliver its report at the end of the month. [emphasis mine]

The launch does bode well for resuming manned launches in December, as originally planned. That it is possible that this problem has occurred previously and has reoccurred is not good. One would have thought they would have instituted engineering design changes to prevent a repeat.

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Russia: Next Soyuz manned flight likely not delayed

According to Roscosmos officials, they will likely not have to delay the next manned Soyuz launch, as they have three unmanned Soyuz launches on their schedule beforehand.

“The Soyuz rocket will be launched only after the inquiry has identified the causes of the emergency and measures have been taken to prevent such situations in the future. Under the existing rules there must be at least one unmanned launch before the flight of a manned spacecraft. We have plans for at least three launches (before the next manned mission due in early December) from the Kourou space site, the launch of an unmanned spacecraft and of an unmanned spacecraft Progress. The confirmations will be more than enough to put the next crew in space,” Krikalyov said.

Makes sense.

The real question isn’t whether they will identify the specific problem that caused last week’s Soyuz launch failure (which I have every confidence they will), but whether they will identify and fix the underlying culture that is allowing these failures to occur with greater frequency. I don’t think they can, since that culture is caused by the very way they have organized their space program, as a single giant corporation controlled by the government. Without the natural process of competition, the culture of Russia’s aerospace industry has nothing to force it to do good work.

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U.S. astronaut describes Soyuz launch failure

Link here. There really isn’t any news here, but it is definitely interesting to read his perspective on the experience of returning to Earth during a launch abort. Up until now, the only humans to have experienced this have been Russians.

This article provides more info.

Meanwhile the Russians have made it clear that this crew will fly in the spring of 2019. Both were trained to do specific spacewalks on ISS, and the Russians think it wise to use that training.

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Updates on Russian investigation of Soyuz launch failure

Three stories from Russia today on the investigation into last week’s launch failure during a Soyuz launch to ISS.

The first two simply outline additional changes in the Russian upcoming Soyuz launch forced upon them by the failure. It is already clear that the December launch of a new crew will be delayed also.

The third story has one piece of information that I think is intriguing:

The emergency commission looks into the Baikonur spaceport staff who worked on the Soyuz-FG carrier rocket preparing it for the launch with the manned capsule Soyuz MS-10 atop, but the liftoff ended up in a failure, a source said.

“Some members of the emergency commission are staying at the Baikonur Cosmodrome to investigate the circumstances of the failure of the Soyuz-FG rocket. They will have to check all the employees who were working on the rocket,” he said.

That they specifically mention the investigation of the employees who worked on both the rocket and the capsule suggests that they are seriously considering the possibility that one of those individuals might be the cause of both this failure as well as the drill hole in the Soyuz capsule now at ISS.

Nor can anyone blame them. The evidence so far surrounding the drill hole suggests it was done when the capsule was being prepared for launch at Baikonur. If there is an individual working there with an animus toward the Russian government or its space program, they might have possibility done something to this rocket as well.

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Updates on yesterday’s Soyuz failure

The Russian investigation into yesterday’s Soyuz launch failure has tentatively identified a malfunctioning valve as a possible source of the failure.

“The state commission has tentatively established a malfunction of the fuel dump valve of the rocket’s oxidizer tank:exhaust gas coming from the valve pushes a side section away from the center section. The valve appeared to be defective and failed to function,” the source said.

The valve passed the preflight check, he said. “It was opened before the launch, and closed afterwards consistent with the procedure,” the source said.

Once the rocket is fueled, the valve dumps redundant oxygen. “It is closed several minutes before the launch. It is supposed to open after the side section separates from the central section, but that did not happen,” the source said.

The “side section” refers to the Soyuz’s strap-on boosters. The “central section” refers to its core stage. From this report it appears the failure of the valve has been linked to a collision between the stages at separation.

“There are no final versions but the primary cause is understandable and is related to the collision of a side element making part of the first stage. A collision occurred during the separation of the first and second stages,” the Roscosmos official said.

“A deviation from the standard trajectory occurred and apparently the lower part of the second stage disintegrated. The rocket stopped its normal flight and after that the automatic system did its work,” Krikalyov said.

An element of the booster’s first stage collided with the second stage, Krikalyov said. “This could have been caused by the failure of the system of the normal separation, which should have been activated. We will analyze the causes in detail,” the Roscosmos official said.

This is obviously only a preliminary result, and should be treated with caution. Meanwhile, the investigation has also launched a criminal investigation. This doesn’t surprise me, as the Russians will sometimes consider some things, such as incompetence, as falling under criminal statutes. Considering the discovery of a drilled hole on a launched Soyuz capsule only a few weeks ago, however, I think they are probably even more paranoid than normal.

Update: Russia has decided they will launch a unmanned Soyuz mission before resuming manned flights.

This is definitely going to impact ISS operations, and cancels a December manned Soyuz launch.

The Soyuz capsules attached to ISS have a 200 day lifespan in space. Thus, the crews on board cannot stay past those dates, which means if launches get delayed for a significant period the station might end up without a crew. NASA has said ISS can be operated in this manner, but I also know they want to avoid this if at all possible.

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Soyuz upper stage fails, forces emergency landing of manned capsule

During a manned Soyuz launch today the rocket’s upper stage failed, forcing an emergency landing of the Soyuz capsule.

A normally reliable Soyuz FG rocket malfunctioned two minutes after liftoff from Kazakhstan Thursday, forcing a Russian cosmonaut and his NASA crewmate to execute an emergency abort and a steep-but-safe return to Earth a few hundred miles from the launch site. Russian recovery crews reported the crew came through the ordeal in good shape. “NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin are in good condition following today’s aborted launch,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted from Kazakhstan.

…two minutes and two seconds after liftoff, just a few seconds after the rocket’s four liquid-fueled strap-on boosters separated from the central core stage, something went wrong. Long-range tracking cameras showed the strap-ons and what appeared to be multiple other objects falling away from the rocket.

“Failure of the booster,” a translator called out, presumably relaying a report from Ovchinin to Russian mission control near Moscow. “Failure of the booster.” Moments later, he confirmed the Soyuz had separated from the rocket’s upper stage, saying “we are in weightlessness.”

During their descent they experienced g-loads as high as about 7 g’s, which is high but not unprecedented or even close to a record.

The quote above calls the Soyuz “normally reliable.” That description applied up until about a decade ago. In the past decade there have been several failures of that rocket, though all previous failures occurred with an unmanned payload.

With this failure the need to get the American commercial capsules operational has become very urgent, since we now have no way to get humans up to ISS. The astronauts on board ISS have Soyuz capsules for return, but no one can come up to replace them.

For example, one of the reasons cited for delaying the first SpaceX unmanned test flight from December into 2019 was scheduling difficulties at ISS. This might change now and allow an earlier flight.

I have embedded video of the launch below the fold.
» Read more

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ISS’s international partners express interest in extending station’s life

While NASA has been considering the end of ISS, this week its international partners all expressed interest this week in extending its life beyond 2024.

During an Oct. 1 press conference at the 69th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) here, representatives of three ISS partner agencies said they were open to extending the station’s operations to 2028 or 2030 in order to maximize the investment they’ve made in the facility as a platform for research and preparation for exploration activities beyond Earth orbit.

Jan Woerner, director general of the European Space Agency, said the issue could come up at the next triennial meeting of the ministers of ESA’s member nations, scheduled for late 2019. “At the ministerial meeting next year, the ministerial council, I will propose to go on with ISS as well as the lunar Gateway,” he said. “I believe that we will go on.”

At a separate briefing Oct. 2, Woerner emphasized the use of the station as a research platform and encouraged greater commercial activities there. “I believe we should use the ISS as long as feasible,” he said. “I always thought 2024 was the end, but now I learned it is 2028, and yesterday I learned it’s 2030. So, I will try to convince the ESA member states that ESA should be a partner in the future.” However, he noted that ESA could defer the decision on a post-2024 ISS extension until its following ministerial meeting in 2022.

Hiroshi Yamakawa, president of the Japanese space agency JAXA, also emphasized the importance of making the most of the station. “I’d like to make the most of the present ISS,” he said. “We have to maximize the output of the ISS. Whenever the deadline comes to the ISS, we would like to participate in the ISS and maximize output.” He added, though, that there was not a pressing need for Japan to decide on an ISS extension. “JAXA is requesting budgets annually, so I think in that sense JAXA is quite flexible.”

Dmitry Loskutov, head of international relations at the Russian state space corporation Roscosmos, said Russia already expected an extension. “We anticipate the continued functioning until 2028 or 2030,” he said.

While I can see many benefits for extending ISS, leaving it as a wholly government-run operation will reduce its effectiveness while increasing its cost. I also suspect all these agencies are lobbying for funding. If they can get money for both ISS and Gateway, it will increase their footprint in space significantly.

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Roscosmos cuts price for Soyuz rocket launch

Russia has announced it is now charging only $48.5 million for a Soyuz-2/Freget launch, a significant reduction in its previous launch prices.

The basic price to launch Russia’s Soyuz-2.1 carrier rocket with the Fregat booster will stand at about $48.5 million, the Russian launch service provider, Glavkosmos Launch Services, has said. “On the first day of the International Astronautical Congress in Bremen, our team announced the basic price to launch a Soyuz-2.1 carrier rocket with the Fregat booster. It comes to $48.5 million,” the company said in a statement, posted on Facebook.

The launch of the Soyuz-2.1 without the Fregat booster would cost about $35 million. “Therefore, the delivery of 1 kg of cargo by a Soyuz-2 rocket will cost $20,000-30,000… which is below the average market price,” the statement reads.

This makes the rocket competitive with SpaceX’s Falcon 9, though (I think) it cannot place as much payload into orbit. This price drop also proves that SpaceX’s low prices are not merely “dumping,” as claimed by Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin. The Russians have now shown that they can launch at this price, just as SpaceX has. It merely took the competition from SpaceX to force them to cut costs for their customers.

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UAE astronaut flight to ISS tentatively scheduled for April

Russia has now tentatively scheduled the flight to ISS of the United Arab Emirates first astronaut.

The first astronaut from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will fly to the International Space Station (ISS) on April 5, 2019, and will return to Earth on April 16, 2019, the ISS launch schedule, shared with Sputnik, has shown. According to the document, an astronaut will fly to the ISS on board the Russian Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft.

It has not been determined yet if Hazza Mansouri or Sultan Nayadi will take part in the mission. Both astronauts have qualified for it and have begun their training in Russia earlier in September.

Though the goal of this mission by the UAE government is to encourage a private space industry in their country, the mission remains wholly a government creature. What has not been released is how much UAE is paying the Russians for their flight.

Had the launch of the U.S. commercial crew spacecraft not been slowed by NASA and had been operational, either SpaceX or Boeing could have competed for this business. Expect them to do so in the future.

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