Tag Archives: Energomash

Proton has returned to flight!

The Proton rocket, heavy-lift workhorse of the Russian fleet, has finally returned to flight.  The mission was a commercial one, sold through International Launch Services (a joint venture of RSC Khrunichev and Lockheed Martin), and carried the Echostar 21 commercial commsat to geosynchronous transfer orbit.  The launch was fully successful, which I’m sure was a bit of a relief after the year-long grounding extended by a frustrating series of delays: first it was grounded to study concerns with the Briz-M upper stage, and then it was grounded further when contamination found in the engines revealed a much larger pattern of fraud within the engine manufacturer, Voronezh Mechanical Plant.  Fallout from that included the humiliating order to turn Voronezh management over to their rival, NPO Energomash, which has been tasked with cleaning up the organization so that this does not happen again.

It’s good to see the old workhorse back in operation again.  There are four more Proton flights scheduled for 2017, as it works to clear out the backlog.


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Antares has returned to flight, and Schiaparelli has been released!

Two exciting moments in spaceflight today!  First off, the much-anticipated return to flight for Antares, launching from Wallops Island in Virginia and delivering the Cygnus “SS Alan Poindexter” on the OA-5 mission to the International Space Station.  Alan Poindexter has since deployed its circular solar arrays, a lightweight design making its third flight on this mission, and is making its way towards the ISS.  Capture and berthing is expected Sunday.  Antares had a spectacular failure on its last flight, using 1960s legacy NK-33 engines.  The new Antares has brand new RD-181 engines from NPO Energomash in Russia on its first stage; the first stage tankage and plumbing, meanwhile, are still built by the Ukrainian company Yuzhnoye, while the upper stage is a Castor-30 solid fuel rocket built in house by Orbital ATK.

Cygnus OA-5 is named for Alan Poindexter.  Orbital has established a tradition of naming their cargo vessels for deceased astronauts.  Poindexter was an accomplished naval aviator and test pilot, who after joining the astronaut corps went on to make two missions into space aboard the Space Shuttle.  Upon retiring from the astronaut corps, he returned to the Navy as an educator.  However, he tragically died just two years later at the age of 50 in a boating accident.

Meanwhile, millions of miles away, the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has released the Schiaparelli lander.  This is ESA’s first attempt to land on the red planet.  (Beagle 2, which piggybacked on Mars Express, was a purely British enterprise.)  The Trace Gas Orbiter then performed a Mars avoidance maneuver; at the time of release, it was on a Mars collision course, which was necessary in order for the lander to end up on the right trajectory.  TGO will enter Mars orbit in two days, while Schiaparelli will be entering the atmosphere the same day — there will be some very tense controllers in Darmstadt for sure.  ExoMars is a European-Russian joint program that actually spans two missions — this one, launched by the Russians in exchange for carrying some Russian instruments originally designed for the Phobos-Grunt mission, and a second one in 2018 that will feature a rover.  It’s an ambitious move in Europe’s planetary program; cross your fingers for them!

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Antares comes to life, with new RD-181 engines

The Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket has completed a hot-fire test of the first stage in advance of the upcoming Cygnus mission to the ISS.  This is the first time the brand-new Energomash-built RD-181 engines have been fired at Wallops Island.  The RD-181s are more powerful and more reliable than the forty-five-year-old rebuilt NK-33/AJ-26 engines that Antares originally flew with until a catastrophic launch failure grounded the rocket  (Cygnus has been flying on Atlas V in the meantime).  The first stage is still largely built by Yuzhnoye in Ukraine, while the upper stage will still be a venerable Thiokol (later ATK now Orbital ATK) Castor 30, powered by solid propellant.

Watch the stage roar to life here:

There’s no sound from the rocket, but you can definitely tell when it gets loud, because the vibrations play merry havoc with the launchpad cameras.  😉

Here’s another, somewhat less shaky view:

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Human Spaceflight News Roundup: Soyuz TMA-13M return, Orion EFT-1 preps, Cygnus seeks a new ride, and Rosetta’s about to drop its payload

Yesterday, Soyuz TMA-13M landed in Kazakhstan.  It was gusty and icy and cold (actually, pretty close to the temperature here in Minnesota, which is an unseasonable but not totally unreasonable 26F at the moment), so it looks from stills as if the vehicle was tipped over and dragged a bit by the parachute, but they nevertheless made it down fine and are in great condition.  And of course someone has posted the entire, unedited two-hour video from NASA TV on YouTube:

Also, Orion is being prepped for EFT-1!  Unfortunately, windy weather in Florida prevented its trip to the pad this morning.  They’ll try again tomorrow.  The vehicle is scheduled to blast off December 4 aboard a Delta IV Heavy rocket that is already assembled and erected on the pad.  (Delta IV and Atlas V both adopt the Russian philosophy of horizontal integration, except when it comes to the payload; the American philosophy of hoisting it up on the pad is still followed there.)

Back to ISS, Orbital Sciences is still on the hook for lifting all that cargo to the ISS, but Antares is definitely grounded pending the outcome of the investigation (which currently is pointing towards the turbopumps, though that doesn’t tell us whether or not the turbopumps are bad — if there was debris in the fuel lines or something like that, you could get a turbopump failure as a result).  So now Orbital is shopping around for a new ride capable of lifting the four-ton fully loaded Cygnus.  There is a fairly short list internationally, and at present they’re not ruling anything out.  Even the Falcon 9 would (somewhat ironically) be an option, and ultimately it will likely depend more on vehicle availability than anything else — they want a vehicle that will help them fulfill obligations in 2015, but most rockets are booked well into 2016 or even beyond.  It will be interesting to see what they come up with.  Simultaneously, they’re accelerating their efforts to replace the AR-26 (former NK-33) engines; current rumor is that they’re looking at Energomash’s RD-193, cousin to the RD-180 that powers Atlas V.

And lastly, Rosetta is just about ready to release Philae!  At long last!  The many steps required to get Philae ready will start tomorrow, with the actual release following on Wednesday.  Touchdown is expected around 16:02 UTC on Wednesday, November 12, which is around noon for us in Central Standard Time.  And why yes, of course there’s a spacecraft animation for that.  😉

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