Tag Archives: Kazakhstan

Tragic accident in conjunction with Progress MS-06

Yesterday’s Progress launch went smoothly, but unfortunately the recovery of the spent boosters did not.  Russian rockets have always launched over land (the sole exception being the Soyuz rockets launched from Kourou in French Guiana, in partnership with Arianespace), and this means they drop their lower stages onto land.  This has caused problems before, from property damage to at least one recorded incident of a cow being killed by falling debris, but for the most part, the spent stages are manna from heaven to the scrap dealers, as they contain valuable materials like titanium.  Before the scavengers are allowed to access the stages, a team hired by Roscosmos goes in and removes any salvageable electronics and other components, and it was one of those teams that suffered a tragic loss.

The stage one drop site this week has been suffering unusually dry conditions (even for this semi-arid part of the world).  This is where the distinctive conical strap-on boosters impact, and it is always cleared of personnel before the flight.  But on this occasion, one of the boosters, still hot so soon after burnout, started a grass fire.  The fire ultimately burned 15 km of grassland before being extinguished, but two contractors with NPO Mashinostroenia were driving along the road, heading to the scene to help fight the fire, when a sudden gust of wind blew fire right across their truck.  One man was killed; the other was airlifted to a hospital with burns over 45% of his body.

It’s a sobering reminder that even when everything with the vehicle appears to go exactly right, spaceflight remains a dangerous endeavor.

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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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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.

soyuz-ms-01-landing

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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