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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Hamish is rightly questioning the initial comments by the Russians that the hole had been made by someone on orbit and not on the ground. By autopsy I presume he means the accident investigation. And you have to wonder, if they are willing to make such dubious claims about the hole drilled in the orbital module of one Soyuz, are they willing to publish the mistakes found in the investigation of THIS incident.

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@imanidiot, I see I misread his comment, so apologies for my tone. He wasn't creating conspiracy theories but rather questioning the official line, which looks very like a conspiracy... Since he's deleted his comment, I've removed mine too.

As an aside, it's worth looking up the pictures of the hole in the previous incident. I hadn't seen them before - it is clearly a drilled hole, not a micro-comet. Likely nothing to do with the current issue, but still more worrying than a hit from in-orbit debris.

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Good that the crew survived but not so good for Roskosmos.

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Maybe a bit more mixed for Roscosmos. Their booster suffered a failure of some sort - but their crewed capsule safely aborted as designed.

So it depends how bad the problem is.

It's potentially very bad for the ISS though. We're going to have to scramble to keep it manned, until either Soyuz gets declared good to go, or SpaceX / Boeing are able to get off the ground.

Do China have the available capacity to help out, and would they be willing to?

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"Do China have the available capacity to help out, and would they be willing to?"

Even if they do, China's been fairly explicitly shut out of ISS by the USA from the beginning (which is why they have their own space stations) and undoing that is a big ball of string to deal with.

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Performed as expected...

At least it seems to have had a viable and tested emergency system rather than something rather hopeful...

Soviet era emergency system I guess - may look uglier than a peasant in a pigsty but sturdier than a brick shit-house.

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Re: Performed as expected...

Yes, 4 failures in over 50 years and nothing fatal in 47 years but the actual crewed mission count is similar to that for the shuttle so the raw metrics are pretty similar.

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Re: Performed as expected...

the actual crewed mission count is similar to that for the shuttle so the raw metrics are pretty similar

Maybe a similar failure rate, but the presence of a viable escape process for the Soyuz makes the outcomes very different.

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Anonymous Coward

"viable and tested emergency system"

It's much easier when you have to bring away only a small, non-reusable ball at the top of the rocket.

That's why military planes have ejection seats, while commercial planes don't.

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Re: "viable and tested emergency system"

And just what would the passengers in 1st class do if the pilots ejected from a 787?

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Devil

Re: "viable and tested emergency system"

And just what would the passengers in 1st class do if the pilots ejected from a 787?

Plummet obviously. Same as if the pilots stayed.

However if ejector seats were fitted for pilots, I'm sure that 1st class would get them too. And on Ryanair there would probably be an auction held amongst the remaining passengers for a limited number of parachutes - minimum bid £10,000.

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Re: Performed as expected...

At least it seems to have had a viable and tested emergency system rather than something rather hopeful...

The two lost Shuttles were destroyed by:

1. An SRB explosion causing immediate structural failure of the craft due to excessive g-forces - something I can't see Soyuz surviving either. After all, Shuttle had emergency SRB separation available, if there'd been time.

2. A failure of the heat shield. Which there's no escape from in Soyuz either. Although admittedly the Soyuz heat shield is hiding during lauch, protected by the fairing and service module - so isn't at the same risk of debris damage.

The Shuttle was inherently more dangerous - as it was more complex, and worse used solid rocket boosters (which can't be throttled down, only ejected). Being bigger it was more capable, but also saddled with a much more vulnerable heat shield. It also couldn't have an escape tower - so in a launchpad explosion there'd be nowhere to go.

Both systems had a similar number of crewed missions - both losing two crews.

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Re: Performed as expected...

1. An SRB explosion causing immediate structural failure of the craft due to excessive g-forces - something I can't see Soyuz surviving either. After all, Shuttle had emergency SRB separation available, if there'd been time.

Hmm... IIRC There was no SRB explosion. The fuel tank was breached by a dislodged SRB, which pierced it after a burn through... The fuel tank then burst and the fuel burned but there wasn't an explosion as such. The aerodynamic load tore the vehicle apart, yes, but the thing is that the Shuttle's crew cabin survived the structural failure and, if there was an escape system, the crew would have survived too instead of being smashed to pieces when the cockpit section fell into the sea.

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Mushroom

Re: "viable and tested emergency system"

>And just what would the passengers in 1st class do if the pilots ejected from a 787?

Swim probably. The Vulcan bombers didn't have ejector seats for all crew (there was an escape route though), I remember reading that once one was in trouble and the other "passengers" disabled his ejector seat as an "incentive" to save the aircraft.

The other reason why Vulcan crashes were bad -->

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Re: "viable and tested emergency system"

I remember reading that once one was in trouble and the other "passengers" disabled his ejector seat as an "incentive" to save the aircraft.

I remember reading that the Moon landings were faked and filmed in a Hollywood studio, too, but that was also a steaming pile of BS.

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Re: Performed as expected... SRB abort

The Shuttle SRBs nearly had a "become safe after lighting" feature which involved explosive detachment of the top cap of both SRBs, so they both became like one of those new wanky double-ended lightsabers. With no net thrust, was the idea.

This was in case only one of them ignited, to prevent making a catherine wheel out of the whole affair... it wasn't implemented; possibly the top-end flame thrower would have killed everyone anyway, and they got SRB ignition reliable enough that they always lit both, or neither.

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Re: Performed as expected... SRB abort

Apparently they could never figure out how to safely jettison the SRB's while they were firing, so effectively the Shuttle was a prisoner of the SRB's until they burned out at 160K ft and Mach 4. By which time, bailout was impossible, even if you had ejection seats.

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Re: Performed as expected...

"The two lost Shuttles were destroyed by:"

A shitty design, necessitated by conflicting demands that made it big and ugly (a camel) and so dangerous that the USAF (whose demands drove the increase in size that forced it to be mounted to the tanks instead of riding on top of the stack) walked away from it very quickly.

Incident 1 wouldn't have been fatal if the orbiter was on top and incident 2 wouldn't have even happened.

The primary reason Buran only made one flight was because the Soviet space engineers refused point blank to allow humans to fly in it. They built it to prove they could and to understand its purposes (something capable of bringing large items down has immense military tactical value - it can be used to attack satellites) but having done that they wanted nothing further to do with it (The Buran designers wanted to put the thing on top of the stack, but were overruled because it would take too long to develop - after the first flight it was decided that the cost of redesigning to put it on top so it could safely carry humans was too high for any possible benefit inherent in having a "shuttleski")

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "viable and tested emergency system"

'I remember reading that the Moon landings were faked and filmed in a Hollywood studio, too, but that was also a steaming pile of BS.'

Of course that's BS!, any fule kno that they were filmed at Area 51..

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Re: "viable and tested emergency system"

Oh the moon landings are definitely real. On the video you can clearly see the curvature of the moon. Were it filmed on earth you wouldn't have seen it as the earth is flat.

Don't believe this round-earth nonsense people!

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Mushroom

Someone please hand those astronauts/kosmonauts a clean pair of underwear.

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I wouldn't be surprised if they were wearing 'space nappies' already.

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Anonymous Coward

'space nappies' which needed to be binned immediately after landing! Definate brown pants moment.

I sincerely hope the plucky astro/cosmonauts have already been furnished with several well-deserved beers.

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Happy

This is Russia. It'll be vodka.

But astronauts are a different breed. They probably said "wheeeee! Can we go again?"

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"But astronauts are a different breed. They probably said "wheeeee! Can we go again?"

I remember during my flight training the day we went out for spin recovery training. After our first deliberate spin and subsequent recovery, my comment was "that was fun, can we do it again?" followed by a cold stare from my instructor. I was young then. It's amazing how we change when we get older...

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I read a book by one of the Space Shuttle astronauts which speaks of the same thing. Apparently every single one of them would have gladly cut off a leg to go to space, even if the odds were just 50-50 of surviving. Only the most fanatically driven even get to the point of being considered for the job!

They are still on the bell curve to be sure, but it's way out there.

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What people will do to get into space

I was sruck by Chris Hadfield's TED talk about what he had to do. It wasn't the physical training alone that impressed me, but the learning Russian and the years and years of commitment.

https://www.ted.com/talks/chris_hadfield_what_i_learned_from_going_blind_in_space?language=en

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Hard to believe this was 45 years ago ...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iab9YKocUcw

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Re: What people will do to get into space

I think Chris Hadfield's a great communicator, and inspirational. I hadn't seen that talk before and what struck me was the challenge of tears in space. Not really thought about the challenges of not being able to clear them, but luckily it seems NASA had. I guess it's a variation of the 5P rule, and preventing panic.

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re: wheeeee!

They're now members of an even more exclusive club than that of astronauts/cosmonauts, and members of the more exclusive club of 'astronauts/cosmonauts who've been to space'.. The club for those who's spaceflight aborted during ascent......and didn't kill them.

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Anonymous Coward

" "that was fun, can we do it again?"

Spins (in a proper plane cleared for them, and in the right conditions) are predictable, as the recovery manoeuvre- made knowingly at the right altitude, like other aerobatics stuff, are pretty safe. The problem are sudden spins caused by the wrong manoeuvre at the wrong altitude - and lack of preparation to recover.

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Anonymous Coward

Endurance by Scott Kelly.

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Space Shuttle

Part of the problem with the Space Shuttle was a double whammy, on the one hand it had no emergency capabilities in the event the shuttle itself was compromised. This is what caused the Columbia disaster as . On the other hand is the US procurement guidelines for large military/space projects that required the jobs building the shuttle to be spread out around the US. As a result the boosters had to be built in stages and put together later, rather than in one singular unit. It was this that then resulted in the Challenger disaster as the connecting ring to the booster rocket segments was compromised by the unusually low temperatures the night before launch. The worst bit about the Challenger disaster though was the fact that the dangers of the booster construction had actually been known since 1971 and not addressed until after the disaster.

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Re: Space Shuttle

Even with Columbia, the issue of foam debris hitting the wings at liftoff was known, but downplayed - that happens when you let beancounters running the shop, instead of true technicians. I don't know if also saving the weight and cost of the white painting over the central tank made the foam more prone to detach.

There were also preliminary drawings of the Shuttle being launched atop a rocket (IIRC reusing some Saturn technology), but it was deemed too complex and expensive. It could have avoided both the Challenger and Columbia disaster - but probably better mission management would have avoided them too.

Anyway, a failure at the worst re-entry time is hard to manage with emergency systems - Russian cosmonauts too were killed by a defective valve.

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Re: Space Shuttle

Another part of the problem, as astronaut John Glenn is once alleged to have pointed out, is that every component of every NASA vehicle is made by the lowest bidder.

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Re: Space Shuttle

AC, be aware they stopped painting the external tank after the first Columbia test flight, partly to save weight, partly because the crew noticed lots of paint flakes coming off the tank during launch.

The Shuttle sold itself as "cheaper than expendable boosters". Once the idea of a winged carrier vehicle to bring the orbiter half way to orbit was binned, there's no way it could have been both safe and cheaper. Blaming beancounters may be easy, but there was plenty of shading the truth from the engineers and scientists too :-(

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Re: Space Shuttle

"The worst bit about the Challenger disaster though was the fact that the dangers of the booster construction had actually been known since 1971 and not addressed until after the disaster."

The boosters were required to be constructed in 2 separate states, which is why they consisted of multiple parts instead of being a single solid tube.

"Even with Columbia, the issue of foam debris hitting the wings at liftoff was known, but downplayed "

It wasn't downplayed, nobody had any clue that the CFRC panels on the edge of the wings could get damaged by the foam, in tests they had shown to be pretty indestructible. They thought the ceramic tiles were the only part that could get damaged and they had a procedure in place for detecting damage to the tiles.

After Columbia broke up they tried to recreate the damage by firing foam blocks at the panels they thought the foam had hit and they couldn't do any damage even after repeated tests. Then one of the image analysts came back and said it might have been a different panel, they set the test up to fire the foam at that panel and the foam smashed a massive hole right though the panel on the first test.

You have to remember that each of the space shuttles was a slightly different size and shape, and small changes to the shapes of panels can affect their ability to survive impacts significantly.

Challenger was the fault of politicians, management and a culture of risk taking. Columbia was an inevitable part of the shuttles design.

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Re: Space Shuttle

"Even with Columbia, the issue of foam debris hitting the wings at liftoff was known, but downplayed - that happens when you let beancounters running the shop, instead of true technicians"

Not quite true.

Both fatal issues were known about prior to the Challenger & Columbia losses, but poor technical analysis by NASA led management to believe that the risks were within acceptable limits.

Poor statistical analysis of mean air temperature at launch & SRB O-ring failures meant that the link between cold early morning launches and O-ring burn through due to loss of elasticity was not established until after Challenger's loss. Had the analysis been done correctly, the risk factor would have been deemed unacceptable and launch would have been delayed till warmer launch conditions, saving the crew.

Likewise, Shuttle wing damage was a known issue subject to flawed technical analysis. In experiments in which foam blocks were fired at the composites used to construct the leading edge of the wing, the risk factor was again underestimated due to the poor computer models used to select the experiment parameters. Had the modelling been correct, larger foam blocks would have been used, and the leading edge vulnerability would have been found to be an unacceptable risk. This would likely have resulted in the grounding of the entire Shuttle fleet until the issue was fixed.

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dv

Re: Space Shuttle

>that happens when you let beancounters running the shop

No, that happens when the typical US managerial approach "don't fix anything that isn't broken, don't improve anything that works" is applied. They will keep the designated path right until they hit a wall.

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Re: Space Shuttle

Also the comparison between the Shuttle and Soyuz some people are making is a bit silly.

If the Soyuz capsule, or its engines, failed - then the crew are as screwed as any Shuttle crew. Because they're sharing the ship with the fault.

But if the second stage failed to fire on Soyuz, they could separate. Equally a slow failure on the Shuttle's SRBs would mean they could be jettisoned. Although the fact that they can't be shut off / throttled and are firing up til jettison does rather suggest they were unsuitable for manned fliight. Unless both fail in the same way simultaneously, it seems likely that most failures are going to result in such catastrophic g-forces, that the orbiter would also be screwed. But then that's the same for Soyuz, if the the rocket fails by cartwheeling in flight or something.

Basically spaceflight is incredibly dangerous. The only big difference is that the Shuttle's main engines could blow up, and from that there's no escape. But otherwise your options are similar - if the craft survies you abort to a landing, or abort to orbit. It's not like you can jump out of an exploding Soyuz, any more than you could out of a Shuttle. I believe it was optional as to whether crews trained for the parachute escape system - which tells you all you need to know about how useful NASA thought it was...

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"Not quite true"

But why assessing risk in the wrong way? To save money. Performing complex, exhaustive tests cost money. Keeping the required skills on board costs money. Delaying a launch costs money.

The "cold" launch was outside the required parameters - the fact they assessed "it could work anyway, as far as we know" was due to costs reasons - and when you look for a justification, you usually find one.

The risk of detaching stuff at launch should have been examined extensively - they instead relied on luck. "If the pieces are small enough and don't hit a sensitive part, we're OK..."

"Had the analysis been done correctly,"

And why it wasn't? Because of costs and delays? Then, they had to pay the price of two catastrophic failures, and fourteen lives lost.

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Re: Space Shuttle

>the issue of foam debris hitting the wings at liftoff was known, but downplayed

Bayesian prior + machine learning

Foam hit the wing, the wing didn't fall off -> foam hitting the wing is fine.

Same reason people drive drunk - it was OK last time

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"made by lowest bidder"

In many cases, there is only one bidder, so you don't even get the benefit of saving money!

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Re: Space Shuttle

The Soyuz launcher has an escape rocket which can pull the crewed capsule away from the rest of the rocket for the first 160 seconds of flight included when sitting on the launch pad. This is automatically triggered when if the engines fail or the launcher departs from controlled flight and can also be triggered from the ground. After 160 seconds the crew capsule can still be seperated from the rest of the launcher as happened in this case. The US launchers before the shuttle had similar systems. That's what the shuttle lacked any escape system from launch to glide after reentry. After Challange they got parachutes which could be used if they got to the glide after rentry and for some reason couldn't land.

Most of the inflight explosions of launchers happen when the lauchers departs from controlled flight tearing itself apart or the self destruct is triggered to aviod it leaving the cleared air space.

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Re: Space Shuttle

No, that happens when the typical US managerial approach "don't fix anything that isn't broken, don't improve anything that works" is applied. They will keep the designated path right until they hit a wall.

Or a patch of water. F-35's again. One crashed, fortunately the pilot ejected safely. But this jumped out from the BBC's report-

In a statement, the F-35 Joint Program Office said the US and its international partners had suspended flight operations while a fleet-wide inspection of fuel tubes was conducted.

"If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced. If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status.

So it may be safety related, ie getting positive confirmation of parts installed by an engineer. But I thought one of the USPs of the F-35 and reasons for cost overruns was it's fancy software that's meant to track every component and report on problems. So theoretically run off a report that lists aircraft with the suspect part and the rest carry on flying. Unless there's.. issues. In which case, reconciling what's installed vs what's listed as installed is a big job.

But such is the cost of complexity and new things.. Which is going to be an issue for any Soyuz replacement.

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Re: Space Shuttle

The worst bit about the Challenger disaster though was the fact that the dangers of the booster construction had

The launch was even more compromised by the politics. Many of engineers said "no fly" on launch morning because of the temperature. But there was a lot of political and PR pressure to launch no matter what as "the world was watching". Someone high up overrode the engineers' "no fly".

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Could ask the Chinese

It's painfully ironic that just when China is making headway with its own space station program (third, permanent one to be launched soon), the ISS has found itself on the verge of being scuttled.

Unless the ISS can be made to pull through, a few years from now it'll be the Chinese space station that welcomes European (ESA), Japanese (JAXA) and other international guests.

Or, you know, ask the Chinese to please, pretty please help us out with a manned mission to the ISS to save it. Only a few decades too late, though.

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Re: Could ask the Chinese

It's not that the ISS is going to be scuttled, just that the only escape pod available at the moment is nearing it's end of life. Not helped by the fact that it's also suspected to be in poor condition to start with. Without a second pod they'll be forced to abandon the ISS temporarily until they can recommence manned missions again.

Then again, the main unit of the ISS is now out of date, so maybe a better option would be to scuttle it and start again. Maybe replace it with something that uses the Blue Danube as part of the docking sequence.

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