Faulty valve on one Soyuz causes Russians to delay second Soyuz launch

Due to the discovery of a faulty valve on a Soyuz rocket being prepared for launch in French Guiana, Roscosmos has delayed today’s Soyuz rocket launch from Plesetsk, Russia, until December 3rd to allow engineers to inspect similar valves on that rocket.

This quote from Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, from the first link, describing the problem, is somewhat amusing:

“The ‘faulty valve’ would be launched with the rocket, and it would return to Earth being just a heap of mishap metal, that would be the problem. There are always some flaws, but in our case, they cost too much. Happily, the low-quality detail was timely detected by the quality control system. However, in general, I do note a sharp decline in our suppliers’ responsibility and quality of their work,”

It appears the quality control problems with Russia’s aerospace industry are continuing. No one, including the Russians, should be surprised by this, as that industry has no competition to stimulate quality work and force bad companies out of business. Instead, everything is managed by Roscosmos from on top, with much of that management designed to eliminate competition entirely and protect the companies that presently exist..

Premature engine cutoff on Soyuz upper stage

During a successful Soyuz rocket launch of a Russian Glonass GPS satellite last week, it appears that the engine for the rocket’s upper stage cut off prematurely, requiring the third stage to fire longer to get the satellite into its proper orbit.

This scenario is almost identical to what happened with the most recent Atlas 5 launch. There is as yet no word on why it happened, or if the Russians plan to investigate it.

Russians use wooden matches to ignite rocket engines

The March 12th launch abort of a Soyuz rocket occurred because the Russians use the equivalent of a giant wooden match to ignite their Soyuz rocket engines.

Essentially, prior to launch engineers insert large wooden matches into each engine, and these are ignited using an electric spark prior to allowing fuel into the combustion chamber. When mission control sensors all matches are burning, they open the valves and fuel enters the chamber, igniting and incinerating the matches.

This setup is not as simple as a regular match, but it is surprisingly reliable and has worked for six decades on hundreds of rockets. Yet on March 12, during the first attempt to launch the new Russian satellite for Earth observation, one of the “matches” failed to fire after the ignition command was issued. It was enough of a problem for the launch control system, which detected the lack of signal from the failed igniter, to call off the propellant injection into combustion chambers. The launch was aborted just a moment before liftoff, and the fully fueled rocket remained safely on the pad.

To launch the next day, they simply replaced the matches and tried again, quite successfully.

The article makes me wonder how other rockets ignite their engines.

Russia has another launch failure

In the heat of competition: Russia today confirmed that its Saturday launch of a military satellite failed when the satellite did not separate from the Soyuz rocket’s upper stage.

For most of the weekend Russian news sources were claiming that the satellite had been inserted into its proper orbit. One source however had correctly noted the failure. Because of the contradiction I had held off posting on this. Now that the failure is confirmed, it reveals again what seem to be chronic quality control problems within the Russian aerospace industry. They fix problem one place and another pops up somewhere else.

Vostochny launch building built to the wrong size

Government marches on! The Russians have just discovered that their Soyuz 2 rocket does not fit in the building just finished at their new spaceport at Vostochny.

The cutting-edge facility was meant be ready for launches of Soyuz-2 rockets in December, but an unidentified space agency of a of a told the TASS news agency of a of a late Thursday that the rocket would not fit inside the assembly building where its parts are stacked and tested before launch. The building “has been designed for a different modification of the Soyuz rocket,” the source said, according to news website Medusa, which picked up the story from TASS.

The rocket had just been delivered to Vostochny for assembly, so this report, though unconfirmed at this time, fits well with current events.

Europe’s Galileo GPS constellation reaches 10 satellites

The competition heats up: A Soyus rocket today launched from French Guiana the 9th and 10th satellites in Europe’s competing GPS system.

This launch enhances competition in two ways. First it is a success of the Russian Soyuz rocket, launched from the European spaceport in South America, Second, it establishes a competing GPS system to the American system, which is great for everyone. Expect future GPS units to provide the capability to use both the systems, as well as the Russian Glonass system.

Soyuz rocket to launch this week

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

Update: The launch on Friday was successful.

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

Angara to launch commercial payload on next launch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What caused the failed separation of the Soyuz and Progress?

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

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

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

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

Independent Arianespace investigation cites design error as cause of Russian launch failure

A just released independent investigation by Arianespace of the Soyuz rocket launch failure that put two European Galileo GPS satellites in the wrong orbits has concluded that the design of the Fregat upper stage, not an assembly error, was at fault for the failure.

The upper stage was not oriented correctly because fuel lines to thrusters had become frozen.

The freezing resulted from the proximity of hydrazine and cold helium feed lines, these lines being connected by the same support structure, which acted as a thermal bridge. Ambiguities in the design documents allowed the installation of this type of thermal “bridge” between the two lines. In fact, such bridges have also been seen on other Fregat stages now under production at NPO Lavochkin. The design ambiguity is the result of not taking into account the relevant thermal transfers during the thermal analyses of the stage system design.

That the Russian investigation found that this arrangement of feed lines happened once in every four stages that were assembled still suggests sloppiness, if not in assembly then in design. The Arianespace investigation, though thorough, thus appears to me to be trying to provide cover for thier Russian partners here.

A new delay in the launch of a Russian weather satellite illustrates the need that small satellite owners have for their own rocket.

Opportunity knocks: A new delay in the launch of a Russian weather satellite illustrates the need that small satellite owners have for their own rocket.

The planned mid-December launch of a Russian Soyuz/Fregat rocket carrying a Russian weather satellite and a half-dozen small satellites for British, Norwegian and Canadian customers has been delayed again, to late February, following the latest series of issues with the main satellite payload, industry officials said. The delay, which is not the first for this launch, illustrates the immutable reality confronted by owners of small satellites manifested as secondary payloads: You launch at the convenience of the principal passenger, and not before.

If there was a small rocket available for these small satellites, not only would they flock to it, the number of small satellite customers would probably skyrocket, as the only thing preventing the funding of many nanosats is the lack of the launcher.

On another note, the technical delays for this Russian satellite and its rocket once again highlight the quality control problems within the Russian aerospace industry.

The immediate consequences of the Progress freighter failure

The immediate consequences of the Progress freighter failure:

The longer term consequences? Congress will anguish over the lack of a shuttle. Some will demand more money for the program-formerly-called-Constellation, while others will demand more money for the new commercial companies. In either case, they will ignore the reality of a bankrupt federal government that simply can’t afford either at the moment.

Progress freighter launch fails

The launch of a Progress freighter to ISS today has failed, with the freighter ending up crashing into Siberia.

This is very bad news for the station. Everyone in the space industry knows that with the shuttle gone, it will be a challenge to maintain supplies to the station’s the six-person crew. Losing just one supply ship will strain the station’s supplies, if not now in the long run for sure.

Worse, this is the first launch failure of the Soyuz rocket that puts both Progress and manned Soyuz capsule into orbit in more than eleven years. The next manned crew is scheduled for launch on September 21. Whether this failure will delay that launch remains unknown.