Tag Archives: Roscosmos

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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Progress MS-05 arrives

The Progress MS-05 spacecraft (flying the ISS-66P mission) has arrived uneventfully at the Pirs module of the ISS.  It’s the second cargo vehicle to arrive this week, but it is no doubt welcome after the loss of Progress MS-04 to a launch vehicle mishap.  It’s refreshing to see such a smooth docking!

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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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Proton grounded due to serious safety concerns, and there’s a connection to the Progress accident

Proton has a fairly checkered history, going in fits and starts from the UR-500 program in the 1960s where it competed directly with the N-1 for funding, to the workhorse commercial heavy-lift rocket sold in the 21st Century by International Launch Alliance, a cooperative venture of RSC Khrunichev and Lockheed Martin.  But it has had a number of very high profile failures, and it faces increasing frustration from Kazakhstan, the country that hosts its sole launch site, Baikonur Cosmodrome, because of the highly toxic propellants it relies upon — unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine (UDMH) and nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4).

It hasn’t had an accident since the loss of Mexsat-1 in 2015, which has led many to wonder why the launch of EchoStar 21 has been delayed so many times, each time due to unspecified technical issues.  Originally slated to fly June 25 of last year, it’s been delayed to August 29, October 10, November 23, December 22, December 28, and January 31.  And now Proton has been grounded another three and a half months by Roscosmos.  Why?

Well, some information has come out now.  Officials had test fired engines for the second and third stages and something went wrong during the test.  This led to an investigation of the engine manufacturer, Voronezh Mechanical Plant (VMZ), which as it happens, is also the manufacturer of the Soyuz upper stage engines that were implicated in the loss of Progress MS-04 last month. The investigation of that mishap concluded that foreign object debris within the engines had caused the accident, although it could not determine the source of the FOD.  Now, with the same engine manufacturer in the crosshairs for Proton engine problems, it seems likely that’s where the real problem lies.

And it’s ugly.  In an unsettling parallel to the findings after the 2015 launch failure (which found substandard materials being used in turbopump shafts), they’ve found that unauthorized substitutions were made in the heat-resistant alloys used inside the engine — replacing precious elements with cheaper alternative — with paperwork falsified to cover this up, and presumably someone pocketing the savings.  Roscosmos has ordered a complete quality control audit of VMZ, to be conducted by their archrival NPO Energomash (maker of the highly successful RD-170 engine family, a derivative of which has powered the Atlas V to a flawless operational record).  Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin visited VMZ and promised funding to modernize VMZ’s facilities, but also threatened severe punishments for those found to have falsified documentation and violated process.  It’s a typically Russian response, more stick than carrot, but given that the main problems have been systemic corruption and brain drain to other, less volatile industries (and, indeed, other countries), it’s unclear whether it can save Russia’s flagging space industry.  As India, China, and Japan ramp up their commercial space efforts alongside old industry leaders in Europe and the United States as well as nascent commercial providers such as SpaceX, Russia faces serious challenges, with major new development now decades behind schedule as they largely continue to rely on 1960s designs and foreign investment to keep their manufacturers afloat.  Already, they are scaling back their ISS involvement, and although this has been spun as work toward a new Russian space station, it’s questionable whether that will actually materialize.  The MLM, their last ISS module, is now nearly a generation behind schedule.  The Anagara rocket has flown twice, after having been promised since the 1990s, and the third Angara has been quietly rejected due to manufacturing defects.  The Baikal reusable flyback booster for Angara, first shown at the Paris Air Show in the late 90s, has never gone beyond the paper-and-marketing-model stage.  Russia’s new cosmodrome, Vostochny, meant to reduce reliance on Baikonur in the face of increasing opposition in Kazakhstan, has hosted just one launch so far, and was only completed very late and with the personal intervention of Vladimir Putin after the revelation of extensive embezzlement that had crippled construction work.
I’d like to be optimistic about Russian spaceflight; there is a long and rich history there, which includes some really sterling examples of success in defiance of very long odds, and some really brilliant innovation.  But it has always been hampered by political interference that alternates between support and obstruction, making it very difficult for any long-term efforts to be successful, and most of the expertise of their glory days has long since retired, leaving few to mentor the next generation of engineers.  Serious investment tends to come only very late, when programs are so severely behind the eight ball that they are on the verge of total disaster, and the punitive response to problems does not help the widespread culture of corruption and concealment.Here’s hoping they can get this turned around.  Proton is a major player in the geosynchronous commsat launch market, and it has a significant backlog right now.

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Rocket failure updates: Soyuz-U and Falcon 9

First off, the good news!  SpaceX is now confident enough in their procedural fixes for Falcon 9 that they have announced their next launch date: December 16early January, from Vandenberg AFB.  Payload would be a set of ten next-generation Iridium satellites.  [Edited per SpaceX news release 12/7.  Original date was reported on SpaceflightNow, but I’m not sure where they got it, since it doesn’t appear anywhere on SpaceX’s website.]

Second, Roscosmos has convened a failure investigation board and begun combing through the data from the failure of Soyuz-U with Progress MS-04.  This was to have been the next-to-last flight of the Soyuz-U.  Everything appears to have been nominal through the first and second stages of flight, but during the third stage, something went badly wrong.  One account has a premature engine shutdown command issued due to a deviation from flight path so severe the third stage’s gyro stabilization system stalled, and then Progress breaking away due to the strain.  Another account has the flight proceeding normally until for some unexplained reason the spacecraft separated.  It will take time to sift through the data and come to an answer; at present in Russian media, it seems the respective manufacturers of the rocket and the spacecraft are attempting to point fingers at one another.

Meanwhile, the impact region has been located.  Russian authorities are combing the Tuva region for debris, and one piece appears to have been found by residents of Tos-Tevek, possibly a propellant tank (as Progress carries not just its own propellant but also supplies for ISS propulsion system).

tank_1

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Progress MS-04 lost on takeoff

Just days after the reentry of the latest Cygnus cargo vehicle, Russia has lost a Progress spacecraft.  Something went wrong during the third stage of the flight, and the vehicle broke up and reentered over the Tuva Republic of eastern Russia, just north of Mongolia.  Most of the vehicle is believed to have burned up in the upper atmosphere.  It will take time to determine exactly what happened, but initial indications suggest a premature separation of spacecraft and launch vehicle.

Progress was carrying 710 kg of propellant for Zvezda, 420 kg of water, 52 kg of oxygen, 315 kg of food, 115 kg of miscellaneous gear including medical and hygiene supplies, 83 kg of gear for the Russian segment’s toilet system, 67 kg of air purification hardware, an Orlan suit, cables, cameras, science experiements, and 87 kg of supplies for NASA (including equipment for the environmental control and water recycling systems).  All of that of course has now been lost.

 

Consumables on the station are within comfortable margins at present.  The next scheduled cargo flight is a Japanese HTV on Dec 9.

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