Tag Archives: Soyuz

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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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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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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Russians considering spacewalk as part of airleak investigation

The Russians are now considering having their astronauts on ISS do a spacewalk to inspect the outside of the Soyuz capsule for evidence of sealant work at the location of the drill hole that caused the airleak.

If the spacewalk is attempted, the cosmonauts would have to get to the Habitation Module, peel off soft thermal layers blanketing the spacecraft and then cut through the meteoroid shielding bordering this section of the spacecraft at a distance of around 1.5 centimeters from its pressurized hull.

To access the area of the hole on the exterior of the Soyuz, Russian officials are developing a spacewalk scenario relying on the available Strela boom, GStM. The telescopic device can be used to carry a cosmonaut secured to a special anchor at the end of the boom to a location aboard the station otherwise inaccessible to spacewalkers due to lack of railings.

The spacewalk would take place sometime in November or December. The goal is to help confirm that the sealant work was done on the ground, as well as help pinpoint when.

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Soyuz capsule was drilled after it was fully assembled

The investigation into the drillhole leak in the Soyuz capsule docked to ISS has revealed that it had to have been done after the capsule was fully assembled.

“During the analysis of those images, traces of drilling were found on the anti-meteorite shield,” the source said, adding that “the top of the drill came through the pressure hull and hit the non-gastight outer shell.”

According to another industry source, the non-gastight anti-meteorite protection is installed right before the spacecraft is taken to the final assembly workshop. “When Soyuz MS-09 has just arrived to the final assembly workshop, it was photographed in details. No hole and no signs of drilling… were found. The spacecraft was drilled later, when it was fully assembled,” the source said. He added that the anti-meteorite shield was also photographed before being installed, and no traces on it were found as well.

The source suggested that the spacecraft could be damaged either during the very last stage of works or during its 90-day stay in the checkout stand, adding that it was highly unlikely that the damage occurred during the transportation to the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan or at the launch facility.

This narrowing of the time frame for the drilling will increase the chances that the Russians will be able to identify who did.

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“Unsteady hand” drilled hole in Soyuz

According to reports in Russia today, Roscosmos head Dmitri Rogozin suggested earlier this week that an “unsteady hand” had made several attempts to drill a hole in the Soyuz capsule.

“There is another version that we are not ruling out; that this was done deliberately in space,” Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted Rogozin saying.

He indicated there were “several attempts to use a drill” by an “unsteady hand,” scraping the metal areas surrounding the hole, according to RIA Novosti. “We can cut short the idea that this was a technological mistake made by some specialist or other,” he added.

The vision that immediately came to my mind was that of a drunk technician, unhappy about pay, bad living conditions, and corruption, stumbling into the capsule, drilling the hole. Later, after he sobered up he realized the disaster he had created for himself and tried to fix it secretly.

Then again, it is dangerous to take seriously anything Dmitri Rogozin says. He could be trying to spin the situation to his advantage.

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Roscosmos re-inspecting all Progress/Soyuz capsules

The Russians are going to give all Progress and Soyuz capsules being prepared for launch a new inspection following the discovery that the airleak on the Soyuz docked with ISS had been caused by a technician on the ground prior to launch and covered up.

The consequences to Russia’s space industry because of this incident are going to be difficult to measure. It surely signals that they have still not got a handle on their quality control problems. In fact, it provides further proof that the technical work coming out of Russia is shoddy, sloppy, and filled with many forms of corruption, all circumstances that should give pause to anyone thinking of flying a product or themselves on a Russian-made product.

Worse, the centralized government-run space industry created by Putin is exactly the wrong thing for fixing these problems. Russia does not have a competitive and free aerospace industry. Everything is run by the government and based on the ability to wield political power rather the ability to demonstrate skill and quality in how you do your job.

With only five launches expected in 2019, Russia’s space program is sinking to the level of a third world country. This airleak disaster will only help it sink further.

One last note: I predicted this kind of disaster back in 2013, when the consolidation of Russia’s aerospace industry was announced by the Putin government. My prediction was not very difficult, nor especially brilliant, since disasters like this always occur from government-run top-down socialist/communist systems. One only has to be patient. It is only a matter of time before the system fails, and fails badly.

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UAE signs deal with Russia for UAE astronaut flight

The new colonial movement: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Russia signed an agreement this week to fly an UAE astronaut on a Russian Soyuz capsule to ISS in April 2019.

The mission will be a standard 10-day tourist mission, though of course they are not describing it like that. The announcement also does not state if the UAE paid Russia for this flight, but I expect so, just like any tourist flight. The price however was likely a lot less than Russia has been squeezing from the U.S. for its astronaut flights. UAE had also been discussing this with China, and the competition probably forced Russia to lower its price.

I had been hoping that one of the U.S.’s commercial capsules could have gotten this business, but because of the delays NASA has imposed on their initial launches, they haven’t yet flown, so they lost the chance to compete for this.

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Russia launches new crew to ISS

Russia’s Soyuz rocket this morning successfully launched a new crew to ISS.

They are using the traditional two-day rendezvous route to ISS this time.

The present leaders in the 2018 launch race:

17 China
11 SpaceX
6 Russia
5 ULA

Bonus: This launch Roscosmos added an on-board camera with views of stage separations. Video below the fold:
» Read more

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Russia launches test smallsat on Soyuz rocket

Russia today successfully launched a test smallsat on a Soyuz rocket.

No information has been released about the test payload, but the link above speculates it is a new lightweight remote sensing design.

This is the second of three launches scheduled for today. China is next, and soon.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings, for the moment:

8 China
5 SpaceX
4 Russia
3 Japan
3 ULA
2 Europe
2 India

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Arianespace successfully places four communications satellites in orbit

Using a Russian Soyuz rocket and launching from French Guiana Arianespace today successfully launched four communications satellites.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

7 China
5 SpaceX
3 Japan
3 ULA
2 Russia
2 Arianespace

For the purpose of these rankings, I consider the Soyuz rocket, launched from French Guiana, an Arianespace vehicle, since it is marketed, assembled, and launched by that company.

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