Tag Archives: Soyuz

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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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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Russia to launch two more American astronauts on Soyuz

A news report from Russia today announced that NASA has extended its contract with Roscosmos so that two more American astronauts will fly to ISS using a Soyuz rocket and capsule.

Russia and the United States have agreed on two additional places on board of Soyuz carrier rockets for journeys of NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), Roscosmos Executive Director for Manned Programs Sergei Krikalyov told TASS. “The documents have been approved,” Krikalyov said adding that it the procedure to sign the papers took place before a recently reported incident with Crew Dragon spacecraft.

According to Krikalyov, there was no new draft of the document as it was “Simply an update to the previously signed contract, everything was in work order and there was no solemn ceremony to mark the signing of the documents.”

This agreement practically guarantees that there will be no Americans flying on American-built spacecraft in 2019. Rather than push SpaceX and Boeing to get their technical problems solved quickly so they can start flying, NASA can continue to slow-walk their development by going to the Russians. For NASA bureaucrats, using the Russians is to their advantage. Any failures can be blamed on the Russians, not NASA due diligence, which would be the case if an American privately-built capsule failed.

Moreover, slow-walking the American spacecraft helps NASA avoid further embarrassment with its own manned system, SLS/Orion, which is years behind schedule. By slowing the private capsules, the delays with SLS/Orion won’t seem so bad.

In other words, NASA’s approach here favors itself and the Russians over the interests of our country and American private companies. It is too bad no one in the Trump administration notices, or cares.

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Arianespace successfully launches four commercial communications satellites

Capitalism in space: Using a Russian-built Soyuz rocket Arianespace today successfully placed four O3b communications in orbit.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

4 China
4 Europe (Arianespace)
3 SpaceX
3 Russia

The U.S. now leads China and Europe 6 to 4 in the national rankings.

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Progress freighter launches and docks with ISS

Russia today successfully launched a Progress freighter to ISS, docking two orbits later.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

4 China
3 SpaceX
3 Europe (Arianespace)
3 Russia

The U.S. still leads the pack in the national rankings 6 to 3.

This list will change, as there is a Arianespace Soyuz commercial launch scheduled for later today.

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Rogozin: Investigation into Soyuz sabotage to continue on ISS

In his remarks to journalists today Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin also said that the Russian investigation into the hole that was drilled in a Soyuz capsule last year is not over, and that they plan to do further “experiments” on ISS.

“The samples collected on the ISS are insufficient for final conclusions. Apparently, additional experiments in orbit will be required,” Rogozin said.

What those “additional experiments in orbit” will be was not explained. I suspect he is referring to the security cameras the Russians are installing on their part of ISS, with the hope of catching the saboteur in the act.

What I think is going on here is that they have not been able to uncover who did this on the ground, and are now trying to imply it might have been sabotage by a U.S. astronaut. Rogozin can’t say this outright, because he wants to keep good relations with the U.S. in the partnership on ISS. He can hint at it, however, and let his own press run with it.

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Russia successfully launches manned Soyuz to ISS

Update: The Soyuz rocket has successfully placed the manned Soyuz capsule into orbit.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

3 SpaceX
3 China
2 Europe (Arianespace)
2 Russia

The U.S. still leads China 4 to 3 in the national rankings.

Initial post: The Russians are right now counting down to a 3:14 pm (eastern) manned Soyuz launch to ISS.

A live video stream of the launch is available at the link from both NASA and the Russians. I have embedded the Russian stream below the fold. It has little narration, and so avoids the annoying propaganda stuff that the NASA feed is littered with.

This manned launch is a bit more interesting in that it is attempting to put in space the three astronauts who were on the aborted October launch. This is also only the second manned Soyuz launch since that abort, so there remains a bit of nervousness about it.
» Read more

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A Russian speaks truth to power about Roscosmos

Link here. The article outlines the obvious Russian ambivalence towards the success of SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule this week, and then provides some insightful comments about this ambivalence from a Russian.

One person who would probably know is Vadim Lukashevich, a Russian-based space expert. He was fired from an aerospace think tank at Skolkovo in 2015 after writing articles opposing the transformation of Roscosmos from a government agency into a state corporation. On Monday, he gave an interview to Russian television station Moscow 24, which was published on YouTube and translated for Ars by Robinson Mitchell.

Lukashevich then proceeds to describe what readers of Behind the Black already know, but in much greater detail: The Soyuz capsule is outdated and cannot compete technologically or economically with SpaceX’s Dragon. Their business model of earning money by selling seats on it is over. And the Russian government is apparently unable or unwilling to do what must be done to make them competitive again. Its decision to form a single giant government-controlled aerospace corporation to run Russia’s entire space industry has failed, and they seem unable to recognize this.

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Arianespace successfully launches first set of six OneWeb satellites

Capitalism in space: Using a Russian-built Soyuz rocket, Arianespace today successfully launched the first set of six OneWeb communications satellites.

This is the first of 21 Soyuz launches to put the entire OneWeb constellation into orbit. OneWeb also has launch contracts with Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne.

The 2019 launch standings:

2 SpaceX
2 China
2 Europe (Arianespace)
1 ULA
1 Japan
1 India
1 Russia

It could be argued that this Soyuz launch should be placed under Russia. I place it under Europe because they are the one’s who signed the contract.

The U.S. now leads China and Europe 3-2 in the national rankings.

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Russia’s first 2019 launch has launch issues

Russia’s first launch in 2019, putting an Egyptian Earth observation satellite in orbit with their Soyuz rocket, has had problems reaching its planned orbit.

Fregat is released shortly afterwards, firing its S5.98M engine to inject EgyptSat-A into an initial transfer orbit. Fregat will likely make a second burn following a coast phase – typically around 45 minutes after the first burn – circularise the orbit. After this burn EgyptSat-A separated, and Fregat will make an additional deorbit burn to dispose of itself into the atmosphere.

It was during the Fregat burn that Russian media reported it was tracking in a lower orbit than planned, although various reports point to the issue occurring during either the third stage flight or during the first Fregat burn.

Amazingly, Roscosmos then noted the mission was a success, potentially achieved by Fregat burning longer to catch up with the shortfall.

Remember, this is the rocket and aerospace nation that NASA prefers to use to send our astronauts into space. This is the second launch problem during a Soyuz launch in less than six months.

The standings in the 2019 launch race:

2 China
1 SpaceX
1 ULA
1 Japan
1 India
1 Europe
1 Russia

The U.S. and China remain tied at 2 in the national rankings. A SpaceX launch is set for tonight however.

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Russia signs contract for two more tourists to ISS

Capitalism in space: Russia has signed a new contract with the American company Space Adventures to send two more tourist flights to ISS, this time at the same time on one Soyuz capsule near the end of 2021.

The article says that the contract is funding the construction of the rocket and capsule.

This deal suggests to me that NASA’s slow-walking of the American private manned effort has resulted in those private companies losing business to the Russians. Had both SpaceX and Boeing been able to launch their capsules by now, as I think they should have, it is quite likely that one of them might have gotten this deal. Instead, they can only look from the sidelines while Russia garners income using our space station.

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Rather than use American manned capsules, NASA is considering buying more Soyuz astronaut flights

Because of the delays imposed by its safety panel in the development of two American-made manned capsules, NASA is now considering buying more Soyuz astronaut flights from Russia.

Past experience has shown the difficulties associated with achieving first flights on time in the final year of development. Typically, problems will be discovered during these test flights. The consequences of no US crew on ISS warrant protection by acquiring additional seats. The absence of U.S. crewmembers at any point would diminish ISS operations to an inoperable state,” noted a procurement document published on February 13.

NASA is considering contracting with the State Space Corporation “Roscosmos” for these services on a sole source basis for two (2) Soyuz seats and associated services to the International Space Station (ISS) on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft vehicle. This transportation would be for one crewmember in the Fall of 2019 and one crewmember in the Spring of 2020.

Remind me again: What country does NASA work for? From this I think it is Russia, not the United States. The agency has no problem putting its astronauts on a Soyuz rocket, even though Russia has had chronic quality control problems that not only caused a Soyuz launch abort last year but also had someone drill a hole in a manned capsule, an act of sabotage that Russia has still not explained or solved.

Meanwhile, it slow-walks and delays in any manner it can the manned efforts of two American companies, so that it is forced to use Russian rockets. This is unconscionable. Where is Trump, the “America-First” guy? Why isn’t he stepping in and putting an end to this political gamesmanship that clearly favors a foreign power over American companies?

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NASA extends Soyuz contract to maintain ISS presence through 2020

Faced with self-imposed delays of the launch of the privately-built manned capsules of Boeing and SpaceX, NASA has now arranged to stretch out the launch schedule of its last few Soyuz manned missions in order to maintain a presence on ISS.

According to Russian sources:

“The following scheme is planned for now: two NASA astronauts will remain on the ISS for nine months instead of the usual six. So, Nick Hague starts his mission on March 14 [2019] on the Soyuz MS-12 and returns to Earth on 18 December on the Soyuz MS-13, while Andrew Morgan will travel to the orbital station on Soyuz MS-13 on 6 July and will return on Soyuz MS-15 in April 2020″, the source said.

In the end it does appear that NASA can no longer slow-walk these American commercial manned capsules. When April 2020 rolls around, they must be operational or we will have no astronauts on board our own space station.

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Russian engineers fix microhole in Soyuz upper stage

Russian engineers have successfully fixed the microhole that had been discovered in the fuel line of the Freget upper stage of a Soyuz rocket being prepped for an Arianespace commercial launch in French Guiana.

This quick repair suggests that the launch will not be delayed as much as first believed.

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Problem found with Soyuz set for Arianespace commercial launch

Russian engineers have found a problem with Freget upper stage used on their Soyuz rocket and set for an Arianespace commercial launch in French Guiana this spring.

According to the source, “a microhole has been found in one of the upper stage’s pipes, which apparently emerged during a long transportation of the booster to the spaceport in French Guiana.”

“Now the specialists of the Lavochkin Research and Production Association [Fregat’s manufacturer] are dealing with this malfunction, by the end of the week they should specify the types of the works needed for eliminating it,” the source said.

The launch may be postponed from late February until March due to this situation.

This problem might not be related to Russia’s ongoing quality control problems. It could simply be a consequence of the difficulty of shipping a rocket across the globe. At the same time, the thought must not be dismissed. They say the microhole occurred during transport, but there is no way to confirm this.

Either way, the problem and delay does not do the Russians good. I wonder if OneWeb, the commercial customer for this flight, is beginning to have regrets about its contract for 21 Soyuz launches to get a large percentage of its satellite constellation into orbit.

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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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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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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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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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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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