Tag Archives: Kazakhstan

Soyuz MS-04 has arrived at Station

The latest crewed mission to the ISS has arrived: Soyuz MS-04, with Soyuz commander (and future Expedition 52 commander) Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Jack Fisher.  The two men share an interesting interagency history — Yurchikhin was one of the first cosmonauts to fly aboard Shuttle, and Fisher is one of the first (possibly *the* first, I’m not sure) American astronaut to serve as Soyuz flight engineer, a situation necessitated by Roscosmos’ decision to reduce their crew size in an effort to save money.  The empty third seat was filled with supplies, and when they return, they will be joined by current Expedition 51 commander Peggy Whitson, whose mission has been extended a few months.

It was a beautiful liftoff from the plains of Kazakhstan:

As per current protocol, they made a rapid ascent profile, docking on the fourth orbit:

This brings Station up to a crew of five.

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Space updates: Soyuz MS-02 returns, John Glenn to fly again, Chinasat 16, and Cassini’s next step

I’ve been way busy the last few days, so I regret I have not posted as often as I’d like.  But I’ll start making up for that.  😉  First off, the landing of Soyuz MS-02 from the ISS!  The imagery is great; you even get to see the capsule venting hydrogen peroxide as it descends under parachute (at which point the thrusters are no longer useful, so they dump the propellant to make it safer on the ground).  This completes the Expedition 50 mission.  On board were Sergey Ryzhikov, Andrey Borisenko and Shane Kimbrough.  Two crew will launch on the next Soyuz, due to funding constraints at Roscosmos which has forced them to make the difficult decision to reduce their crew size.  On a positive note, the commander of Expedition 51, who took command upon this crew’s departure, is Peggy Whitson, and NASA has just decided to extend her mission by three months.  She currently holds the female spaceflight endurance record, and by the end of her extended mission, will also capture the American spaceflight endurance record.

Meanwhile, in Florida, crews are preparing the next Cygnus vehicle, named for astronaut John Glenn, to be launched aboard an Atlas V to the ISS.  This trip will carry experiments to create new targeted chemo drugs in microgravity for Oncolinx (an experiment which will consume a lot of crew time; it’s stuff that cannot be done anywhere else), a crystal growth experiment that goes beyond the basic science of previous experiments and aims to build new radiation detectors, a mini greenhouse (the most sophisticated sent to space to date) with wheat and Arabidopsis seeds, 34 Cubesats in the pressurized compartment (to be deployed later from Kibo), and 4 Cubesats to be deployed by Cygnus itself after departing the station.  Finally, there are two experiments to be carried after Cygnus has completed its primary mission — the third SAFIRE test to better understand fire in microgravity, and three small reentry bodies that will be ejected prior to Cygnus’ reentry, a process which they are expected to survive.  They will splash down in the ocean and sink, however, so they aren’t expected to be recovered.  Instead, they will be continuously transmitting temperature data via the Iridium constellation, allowing testing of new heat shield materials under real-world circumstances.  Note: launch was delayed from March to April 18 due to a launch vehicle technical issue which has been resolved.

And although Falcon 9 has taken a lot of business away from Chinese launch vehicles, they still have a solid lock on their burgeoning government program.  A Long March 3B blasted off from Xichang with the Shijan 13 (Chinasat 16) communications satellite on board.  This is the highest-bandwidth spacecraft that China has launched, and in addition to acting as a technology demonstrator for several projects (including ion propulsion and laser communications), it will provide high-bandwidth Internet service to airline, ship, and train passengers in and near China.

And lastly, on a bittersweet note, yesterday JPL uploaded the instructions for Cassini’s next Titan flyby.  In six days the Cassini spacecraft is moving towards a major milestone — the last flyby of Titan.  This flyby will be used as a gravity assist to move the spacecraft from its current ring-grazing phase to the final phase of the mission, called the Grand Finale.  It will fly closer to Saturn that anything ever has before, completing several orbits before impacting Saturn in September.  But it will return astonishing data that could not be captured any other way, including passes through the tenuous outer atmosphere of Saturn and through the D ring itself.

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Dragon arrives at ISS, and Progress begins its climb

The cargo trips to the ISS continue, with the CRS-10 Dragon arriving a day late (after waving off the first rendezvous due to faulty GPS data) and Progress MS-05 blasting off and returning the Progress capsule to flight after the unfortunate launch vehicle failure that destroyed the last one.  Progress Ms-05 also capped off the venerable Soyuz-U, as it was the final flight of that rocket variant.

Dragon has been berthed at the nadir port of the Harmony node, and Progress MS-05 is en route to dock with the nadir port of the Pirs compartment.

The final Soyuz-U launch:

And a timelapse of the Dragon berthing:

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Atlas V launches with WorldView 4, and Soyuz MS-03 rolls to the pad

Here are some pretty rocket videos to enjoy.  😉  First, from last week, the Atlas V launch of the WorldView 4 commercial imaging satellite, from Vandenberg AFB:

And then, in preparation for launch this week, here’s the Soyuz MS-03 rocket stack rollout at Baikonur Cosmodrome:

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Soyuz MS-01 returns after four months in space

The international crew of Soyuz MS-01 have returned to Earth!  Anatoly Ivanishin, Takuya Onishi, and Kate Rubins landed in Kazakhstan today.  The lighting was phenomenal, and this is I think the clearest image I’ve ever seen of a Soyuz landing.  You can see all the parachute lines and everything.


And the video is really good too.  Watch right at the very beginning as you see puffs from the pyrotechnics firing to jettison the heat shield:

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More Stuff Going Up and Down: GSLV with Insat 3DR, and Soyuz TMA-20M lands

This was a busy week for spaceflight.  In addition to the ongoing SpaceX investigation and the OSIRIS-REx launch, there was also a launch from India and a landing in Kazakhastan.

First off, the successful return of Aleksey Ovchinin, Oleg Skripochka, and Jeffrey Williams aboard Soyuz TMA-20M earlier this week:

You may remember them as the crew that had this awesome mission patch:

And then from Sriharikota, India’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre, an all-domestic GSLV rocket blasted off, delivering the Insat 3DR weather satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit.  The GSLV has had a difficult path, as various components are replaced or added or removed or changed and with an unfortunately high rate of failures.  So this launch was particularly important for ISRO, which seeks to become a viable international competitor in the commercial launch market.  Their rockets are cheaper even than Falcon 9, and GSLV’s increased performance over the highly reliable PSLV is critical in order to capture valuable geosynchronous business.  (GSLV actually stands for Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle.)  What’s more, ISRO will be depending on GLSV to place their next Chandrayaan moon probe into lunar transfer orbit — and that one will be their most ambitious deep space probe yet, featuring orbiter, lander, and rover in one mission.  But until then, check out the Insat 3DR launch.  Notice one unique feature: the core stage is solid, while the strap-ons are hypergolic, so the plume is inverted from what you’d expect on an Atlas or Long March launch.  It’s an intriguing hybrid of a rocket — solid core, hypergolic strap-on boosters, and a cryogenic upper stage.  And perhaps it is finally coming into its own.

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What does a used Proton rocket look like?

Like this, apparently:


That’s the first stage of the Proton-M that launched Intelsat 31 to geosynchronous transfer orbit on June 9.  It impacted in Kazakhstan, but considerably short of the expected impact zone, which is why it wasn’t found for a while.  The Proton launch was technically successful, in that the payload was delivered to an adequate orbit, but that orbit was a bit slower than intended, and the Briz-M upper stage had to fire abnormally long to compensate for a shortened second-stage burn.  Telemetry indicates that the second stage yaw control engine shut down shortly before the end of the programmed burn, causing the remaining engines to expend extra propellant to maintain the proper trajectory, which in turn caused the stage as a whole to burn out prematurely.  But the fact that the first stage fell short suggests something went wrong in the first stage as well.  Engineers have been looking at the recovered debris and the telemetry ever since the launch, and International Launch Services has announced that the launch of EchoStar 21, scheduled for August 29, will be delayed to sometime in October to give engineers more time to evaluate the anomaly and determine whether there is any risk with proceeding.

Proton has had something of a checkered history, and its image never fully recovered from a string of accidents a few years ago.  It’s the cheapest launch vehicle in its weight class, which keeps it popular for geosynchronous commsats too large for Falcon 9 (which has nevertheless been eating into its market share).  But its a hazardous vehicle, powered by toxic unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine (UDMH) and furiously corrosive nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4), a hypergolic combination (that is, the two chemicals will ignite spontaneously upon contact with one another).  Watch also during launch videos for red smoke — that’s unused nitrogen tetroxide.  This, as you might imagine, is part of why Kazakhstan isn’t entirely thrilled about hosting Baikonur Cosmodrome anymore — and why Russia is working to get away from Proton with heavier variants of the kerosene-fueled Angara.  But in the meantime, this remains a very important part of the global rocket inventory, able to put massive commercial payloads into orbit at very competitive rates.

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