back to article Russian rocket goes BOOM again – this time with a crew on it

The post-Space Shuttle era of reliability spearheaded by Russian space agency Roskosmos came to an abrupt end this morning as the booster carrying the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft to the International Space Station failed a few minutes after launch. The countdown proceeded normally and the venerable booster lifted off at 0840 UTC ( …

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Alien

Oops.

Just when we were beginning to think space travel was getting boring.

Very glad to hear that the crew survived ok.

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Pint

Re: Oops.

Agreed, sadly their trajectory matched the curve of Putin's credibility rating.

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Re: Oops.

"sadly their trajectory matched the curve of Putin's credibility rating"

..... you do know that their trajectory after separation was ballistic????

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Holmes

Re: Oops.

.....Up to the point the parachutes deployed, yes.

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Re: Oops.

Very glad to hear that the crew survived ok.

Which for me is the real headline here. Rockets are big, dangerous fireworks that frequently fail (compared to the standards of reliability in lower energy forms of aerospace), so this one going pop is neither here nor there. But to recover the crew safely - we hope - that's news.

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Re: Oops.

Agreed, sadly their trajectory matched the curve of Putin's credibility rating.

...as retold by Western Media.

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Devil

Re: Oops.

yeah it DOES reflect well on the Russian safety record so far. The crew returned safely.

Unfortunately not-so-good for a couple of our shuttles... [but we did over a hundred shuttle missions, so what's the accident rate?]

I checked HERE and found a few interesting statistics:

a) the last shuttle mission was STS-130 in 2010

b) 788 people were sent into orbit on the shuttle (that includes repeat flights, not just the number of astronauts)

c) 14 died on the 2 shuttles that were destroyed. this is 1 in 56

d) at the time the article was written, Soyuz had launched 250 people

e) that the time, there had been 4 fatalities and a couple of abort/returns [that were not counted in the statistics]. This is about 1 in 63, slightly better than the shuttle.

but it DOES suggest that the safety numbers are somewhat comporable. I think if the shuttle program had continued, safety improvements would have bent the statistics in a more favorable direction. We'll never know, of course. The shuttle is history.

That being said, space is risky and of course astronauts sometimes die. But I think Soyuz has been pretty good with their safety record, and I'd like to see Boeing and SpaceX maintain at LEAST that good of a record in the future.

We should keep the ISS. In fact, maybe we should build a hotel there... (it would be easier to extend it than to have another ginormous orbiting thing that might transit across the same orbit as the existing ISS from time to time, and I'd really rather have them all in one spot than to spread out the risk on that one)

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Re: Oops.

At least the Russkys can build something that mostly works.

So the West, with all its tech marvels, has to rely on the Russians? How is this not a disgrace for the US, EU, Japan, etc.?

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Anonymous Coward

"So the West, with all its tech marvels, has to rely on the Russians? "

Ask George W. Bush - he spent so much money on wars that he couldn't finish, he killed the Shuttle program before anything was available to save money and avoid to raise the taxes to his rich frieds. But Cheney and Rumsfeld probably got the "gifts" the weapon industry promised them.

Russians meanwhile killed any advanced program (Energia, Buran) and falled back to their old designs - after all that's the country who kept making the Lada-Vaz Žiguli (a licensed copy of Fiat 124) from 1970 to 2012, and the same cameras with the same equipment looted from Germany in 1945 well into the 1980s... I wouldn't be surprise if pieces of the Sojuz are still made with equipment got that way...

If US kept the Saturn IB/Apollo combo alive for LEO, they would have had a proven design available as well. When work was shifted to the Shuttle, NASA kept on selling it as a "launcher" - while it was really an "orbital workshop", and should have been used only as such, keeping less expensive launchers around.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "So the West, with all its tech marvels, has to rely on the Russians? "

All of us are human beings: it really doesn't matter which country or combination of countries gets us into space, as long as it happens safely, and, yes, ideally, working together in cooperation (comradeship, even).

As ever, Star Trek has much to inspire us with.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Oops.

Hey Bob, please stop thinking that praise of one of Russias so called enemies is an attack on America that you need to defend. That right-wing paranoia and insecurity gets you nowhere!

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The current crew could be extended for another 6 months until the next crewed Soyuz launches post-investigation or extended 11 months until the first US launch.

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Only if they do without a reliable return capsule. The Soyuz is only rated for 6 months (some sources say 200 days) life on orbit, so having launched on June 6th MS-09 needs to come back in early December.

The limit is apparently seals and washers in the manoeuvering systems, the propellant used makes them start to degrade.

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postpone 11 months!? If they've been up there 3 months already, they'll develop serious health problems if they're up there that long. I wouldn't like that decision being made for me - and I assume their families would be non-plussed. What are the downsides to abandoning the ISS aside from a gap in the science data?

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They could send another Soyuz capsule up unmanned. Or one of the commercial crew capsules could be sent up, I believe the capsules have been approved it is just the rockets that are still awaiting final certification for crewed launched. Both SpaceX and Boeing have to send unmanned capsules up to the ISS anyway to prove they work, before they will be allowed to launch a crew in them.

I'm sure there are lots of people at NASA and Roskosmos canceling their weekend plans as we speak.

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"What are the downsides to abandoning the ISS aside from a gap in the science data?"

The end of the ISS.

The ISS has a low orbit that skims the atmosphere reducing its speed and thus the height of its orbit, without constant station keeping it will literally fall out of the sky. It also requires constant maintenance to keep it functioning. Abandoning it for several months would mean abandoning it permanently.

Fourteen months is doable. Valeri Polyakov spent 437 days and 18 hours on board Mir in the mid 90s.

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I dream of pizza

I wouldn't like that decision being made for me.

Even though as a kid, I dreamed of being an astronaut.. I wouldn't like to be strapped onto a giant firework and shot in the general direction of space. They're the right kind of nuts, which I guess explains why many had previous careers as test pilots. Will this fly? Let's find out!

The good news is the crew survived. Not so good news for the ISS crew. Curious if we could send an unmanned Soyuz capsule to de-risk their return if their current return module is questionable.

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It MIGHT be able to survive the gap if it's boosted to as high as it can be allowed before turning off the lights and locking the door IF SpaceX or Boeing can get their crewed Dragon up there and man-rated in time. If there's no-one on board they can switch off a lot of the complex life-support, ventilation and cooling systems. Bringing it back online after a gap like that is a daunting prospect though. I'm very sure a lot of people will be very nervous right now. It'll be a while before they have to make the decision to abandon it, but it'll be a hard blow either way.

Having to bring all the crew home WILL however no doubt mean an end to the research of a lot of scientists as experiments will have to be abandoned.

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postpone 11 months!? If they've been up there 3 months already, they'll develop serious health problems if they're up there that long.

Valeri Polyakov spent fourteen months on Mir with no major health effects (he walked out of the Soyuz after it landed), so postponing for a little while won't be too serious. I'm sure their families will miss them, but it's all part of the job.

As for re-boosting the ISS up to a higher orbit, they usually use the unmanned Progress craft to do that, although the Zvezda module has it's own engines as well.

Moving into the realm of complete conjecture, I think that the Russians will do their best to re-certify Soyuz as quickly as possible (even if that involves finding another 'saboteur'). Whether that will mollify NASA or ESA enough to allow their own astronauts to fly on it again is another matter.

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I can imagine the Russians being willing to quickly whitewash a report and risk cosmonauts, which is a way of saving the ISS - even if nobody else will send anyone.

But then it could all get political and weird. With say the Russians refusing to go without anyone else. Or mocking everyone else, and then other space agencies feeling pressured into relaxing their safety rules, or other grumpiness.

Of course it could be a genuinely easy mistake to diagnose. Most of their other problems seem to have been with the Freigat upper stage, which isn't used on manned Soyuz launches. But equally that could just be luck, as quality control has clearly been suffering of late.

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> The limit is apparently seals and washers in the manoeuvering systems, the propellant used makes them start to degrade.

Gotta love Hydrazine - Corrosive, highly toxic, carginogenic, explosive at a wide variety of vapour concentrations and hypergolic with a wide variety of industrial and domestic materials.

When you see folks talking about green propellants, what they really mean is 'anything but f-ing Hydrazine.'

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Anonymous Coward

Station keeping

Does the ISS need to be manned for station keeping? I'm sure there are plenty of maintenance tasks onboard that require staffing and that going unmanned would have a detrimental effect on a lot of what goes on inside the station. It seems like the stationkeeping part could be managed from the ground.

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Re: Station keeping

Mir really suffered from being abandoned - and never fully recovered. The ISS is more modern, but it's not designed to be operated without a crew. And things break regularly - which a crew can fix.

I suspect the answer is that it might be possible to work round some problems - but the longer you leave the station unmanned, the larger the risk that bad things might happen. You've got to keep it at the right altitude, and you've also got to maintain control of orientation of antennae and the solar panels. Once they lost that on Mir, they were always fighting communications and power problems - and I don't know how much better the ISS would be at that.

Plus abandoning ship would destroy loads of long-term experiments.

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"Both SpaceX and Boeing have to send unmanned capsules up to the ISS anyway to prove they work, before they will be allowed to launch a crew in them."

...and likely have to come back unmanned to, to prove that bit works. Probably a couple of times at least.

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"What are the downsides to abandoning the ISS aside from a gap in the science data?"

Probably no or minimal downsides. Those with long memories may recall that Skylab in the 1970s was a manned orbiting station that was occupied for short periods to perform experiments, but was left unmanned much of the time. No particular reason -- other than the fact that a permanent crew is presumably assumed in planning -- that the ISS couldn't operate in the same mode. Temporary destaffing is probably -- like most things involving humans in space -- a political decision that may not involve a lot of logic.

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"Temporary destaffing is probably -- like most things involving humans in space -- a political decision that may not involve a lot of logic."

All assuming that only the USA doesn't accept the Russian finding on the "anomaly" whilst others do and are still prepared to go up. It is, after all, the International Space Station :-)

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Anonymous Coward

Gone to the dogs...

"It MIGHT be able to survive the gap if it's boosted to as high as it can be allowed before turning off the lights and locking the door"

When I was a lad we used to be able to leave the doors unlocked in our low earth orbit...

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> Gotta love Hydrazine

Yeah, but if you read "Ignition!", you'll realize any chemicals with the energy to combine violently enough to propel people to orbit will be nasty stuff.

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"If they've been up there 3 months already, they'll develop serious health problems if they're up there that long."

They're perfectly fine up there. The health problems start happening on the ground if you spend too long in zero-G

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FFS its the first one to go bang since 1975.....

In both cases, they survived.

I cant recall anoyone dieing from a soyuz takeoff (landing is a different matter)

Its bloody reliable, compared to US performance in the same period!

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Devil

hydrazine

hydrazine is kinda what nitro looks like without all of that carbon and oxygen (and I think it's just a bit more stable. yeah, when NOT in the presence of the right catalyst to make it go 'foom')

nitrogen bonds typically break with a great deal of released energy. Hence, with that nitrogen double-bond, it makes GREAT rocket fuel! (I read up on it on wikipedia just for grins, always fun stuff). Nitro would, too, except for the whole 'shock instability' thing.

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Anonymous Coward

Not necessarily nasty

"any chemicals with the energy to combine violently enough to propel people to orbit will be nasty stuff."

Looked at one way, yes you have a point. But looked at another way: hydrogen and oxygen aren't dreadfully bad and are commonly used as lower stage rocket propellants (and more, in the Apollo programme at least). Kerosene (aka paraffin) is another favourite first stage fuel, although not so much these days. When I was a lad, paraffin (wax) gauze was a standard medical wound dressing which goes some way to illustrating how toxic the stuff is. Okay, okay, paraffin/kerosene comes in many different forms and all that, but I've used paraffin powered camping stoves and lamps quite a lot from childhood and the only health warning anyone gave me is "this stuff works as a laxative if you take too much of it".

The thing about stuff like hydrazine, nitric acid, and related compounds used as rocket propellants is that they're rather more easily stored than liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. And they can be combined in hypogolic pairs so you don't need an ignitor, thus improving reliability. So they're dead good in some ways - but if you left it up to me, they'd not be used inside our atmosphere.

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You can't just be like "it's a lovely morning time to...

launch a rocket and put people up in the ISS"

You have to wait for them to be able to meet essentially - you fire this thing off in a direction, make it tilt a bit, then that spirals into the way of the ISS and with a bit of manoeuvring they line up.

Remember you're not trying to intersect with the ISS - you want to move in so your direction and the ISS line up.

You can do this anyway, but you really want that big-ass rocket you discard to do MOST of the work, and the remaining propellant (fuck all, few drops - compared to rocket) to give you a nudge towards it so you do align. This is what corrects the rocket's error in where it went.

As a slight ... brag (I really want to show people who are not students who are automatically in awe of everything) I've been working on like "KSP for adults" (without ever playing KSP) because I was annoyed by the number of students thinking this made them experts (I don't hate students, I hate some of them, especially the ones who are given a grain of knowledge and suddenly know everything - but I'll suppress that rant)

I recently tested it with moon landing (naturally) and Hayabusa 2 - it's going well (this mission mostly worked, I got it to the right place at the right time for a lot of things, bit of a language barrier - but with their mass and propulsion capabilities everything worked! Looking to get more accurate "what they did when" but they keep good English updates so I can infer a lot, like checking remaining reserves line up ect).

Love to share it, it's really coming together.

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Re: You can't just be like "it's a lovely morning time to...

"KSP for adults"

You mean Orbiter?

Not that KSP isn't for adults of course.

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Re: You can't just be like "it's a lovely morning time to...

I'll be honest, I didn't bother checking first. You know the rules of thumb like "don't do your own X" - but programs doing X exist, the rule exists as a sort of check, if you don't know why the rule is, you're not ready to break it.

I trust myself to do it, I don't know how to convey that without just splurting some words like "numerical methods", "proper understanding of floating points" (which really go hand in hand) ect ect.

But what's wrong with another one right? ;)

Thanks for the link though, looking at the screenshots that's like flightsim style (you have a console and instruments, bottom right screenshot). This isn't quite that, but I wont go into it here, I look forward to checking it out though!

I must confess I've also started playing around with railguns (firing 2 at the same time opposite sides of the centre of mass so you don't start spinning), "realistic joints" (so much effort went into these) so they snap properly. I'm not too happy with collisions (which is a huge subject) but they exist. I've also left the foundations in for special relativity (not in terms of graphics - but I could with great effort, that's an "instant rendering") but in terms of delay and signal forms - right now none of that's implemented but I can add it without having to rewrite everything.

Sorry for the textwall, My intent is to make sure this is worth my time writing, so there are many things you can turn on or off (or are currently off but one day - maybe - time permitting you can turn on!), for example right now the "rail gun" is pretty much hard coded with some equations I worked out on paper, one day - maybe you design it "proper".

I've made some good plotting features so you can generate plots of variables against any other (and these can come from simulations). So I've really got some good room to develop stuff and see the relationships in play.

Tl;DR sorry.

Thanks for the link again!

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Re: You can't just be like "it's a lovely morning time to...

Some things Kerbal Space Program does very well, but it has simplifications that build up errors. You learn the basics of changing orbit and rendezvous, the stuff that Buzz Aldrin wrote the book on, but I'd still rather have him at the controls.

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The Russians & International crews have had people up there for well over a year: consider the Mars 500 series of long-stays. There will be health risks, but nothing irrecoverable.

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Incorrect: the Progress automated resupply ships can refuel the ISS. The Russian segment has the re-boost rockets on it that can be refuelled - this is the normal operation (NOT the international section). All of these can be remotely operated from the MKS in Moscow.

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What a load of tripe: the Soviets & Russians have been far less cavalier about the survivability of their systems than the Americans. You need to read your history more carefully. The Soyuz has always been developed to be survivable in all stages of use, unlike the Shuttle or Apollo, etc. Moreover the ability of the Soyuz to operate fully automatically or under remote control, without crew intervention permits an incapacitated crew to potentially survive. Unlike the Shuttle.

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Uuum: wrong, again. The hypergolic propellants used mean that ignition in space is 100% reliable. This is vital. Hypergolic propellants have been used in all space-based chemical engines. The ones designed by Isaev's design bureau were the only ones to be 100% reliable. (The current hypergolic engines in the Soyuz, Progress and Russian-segment of the ISS are all direct descendants of that superb engine design.) The fact that they are corrosive is an issue. But one has to live with that with chemical engines in space. Space probes use hypergolic propellants. The Shuttle did. It is NOT a "nasty Russian rubbish design" thing.

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Re: Station keeping

You are correct, the automated Progress resupply ships & the Zvezda module in the Russian segment are both designed (one as a back-up for the other) to keep the ISS at station. Either automatically or under control from the MKS is Moscow (again redundant backup).

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Re: Station keeping

The Russian segment is designed to be run either automatically independently, under ground-control or via cosmonauts on board. The multiple redundancy was designed in on purpose. The Soviets & Russians have great experience with de-staffing and re-staffing space stations: e.g. Salyut (commonly unmanned), Mir. Mir did not suffer permanent issues with de-staffing. It did suffer from the collapse of the Russian economy after the break up of the Soviet Union meaning that the items that previously came from the Ukraine now cost a lot of money that Roscosmos (of the time) simply could not afford.

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Thank you: well said. The last people to die in a Soyuz was on landing from Salyut 1. A total of 4 people have died, sadly. The first was Komarov. Those last 3: Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev in 1971. One must not forget Valentin Bondarenko.For a total of 1+1+3=5. So how many died in the US space program? 3+7+7. (Apologies for not naming them all.)

Read that again 5 vs. 17.

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Anonymous Coward

"unlike the Shuttle or Apollo"

Are you comparing something that can work only in LEO with something that went to the Moon and back, and a ball of iron with little space even for three astronauts for a short time, with a full spaceplane able to carry heavy payloads and with two weeks operating capabilities?

It was impossible to ensure full survivability around the Moon - but with weights even the Saturn V couldn't lift. Within LEO, the Apollo had the same emergency mechanism.

Anyway, as other pointed out, if the rocket under the Sojuz blows unexpectedly, or the capsule itself fails or is damaged (as it did when a valve failed, killing the crew), there's no way to survive. Sure, the simpler and less capable a system is, less things can fail. A cannon ball has very few failure modes.

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Anonymous Coward

How many Americans went into space? And they made far riskier flights - as going to the Moon and back.

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Read on other sites that its the propellant for the thrusters that degrades to water in 200 days. I forget what the scientific name is for the propellant. Could be the seals and washers as well of course.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Gone to the dogs...

"When I was a lad we used to be able to leave the doors unlocked in our low earth orbit..."

Oh yeah, but how long ago was that? These days you never know who's prowling around the neighbourhood, trying door handles ...

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Conspiracy theories incoming...

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