Sunday, December 04, 2016

ISS Russian Supply Ship Fails to Reach Orbit; Is "Long Slow" Russian Decline to Blame?

          By Chuck Black

A Russian Progress supply ship transporting cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) has burned up in the atmosphere and been lost.

The rocket carrying the 7,290-kilogram Progress MS-04 (also identified by NASA as the Progress 65 or 65P mission) lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on December 1st, 2016, at 17:51:52 Moscow Time (9:51 a.m. EDT). A third stage failure of the Suyuz-U rocket carrying the Progress supply ship, which occurred six minutes into the flight, is currently considered the leading cause of the accident, although the investigation is ongoing.

December 1st, 2016 IGN news reports covering the launch failure. As outlined on the December 1st, 2016 Roscosmos Russian state space agency post. "Progress MS-04 Situation," the loss "took place at an altitude of about 190 km over remote and unpopulated mountainous area of the Republic of Tyva." with most of the spacecraft fragments burning up in the dense atmosphere. To view the IGN video, simply click on the screenshot. Screenshot c/o You-Tube.  

TASS, the Russian state news agency, has cited space industry sources as saying the combustion chambers in the third stage engine may have burnt out, possibly due to defective assembly.

As outlined in the December 1st, 2016 The Verge post, "Russian supply ship headed for the Space Station burns up in the atmosphere," this is the second time in the last two years (and the third time since 2011) that Russia’s space agency has had trouble with an ISS resupply mission:
In April of 2015, Roscosmos lost control of its cargo spacecraft during the Progress 59 mission. That ship spun wildly out of control and eventually burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere. 
Roscosmos lost a Progress resupply much in similar fashion to today’s mishap back in 2011, when the third stage burn of the same type Soyuz rocket failed. That Progress ship was also lost in the atmosphere.
According to the December 1st, 2016 Russian Space Web post, "Progress MS-04 fails to reach orbit," the supply ship was launched on the "last Soyuz-U rocket before the switch to a new-generation Soyuz-2 family, which did not depend on avionics produced in Ukraine."

But the Soyuz-2's have also been having troubles. As outlined in the article:
The switch to the new variant (from Soyuz-U to Soyuz-2) acquired the new political significance after the Kremlin's confrontation with Kiev in 2014.
However, inside the Russian space industry, this move became controversial after the loss of the Progress M-27M spacecraft (known by NASA as either Progress 59 or 59P) on April 28, 2015, which was blamed on design features specific to the third stage of the Soyuz-2 rocket.
Although the Soyuz-2 was officially declared fully operational in March 2016, there was a lingering concern over this variant's reliability in the long term, stressing the need for a potential backup. 
The rocket issue had remained open, as the Progress MS-04 launch campaign got underway.
Design variations showing overlaps and similarities between the third stage of the Soyuz-U/FG, and the Soyuz-2-1a and 2-1b rockets. As outlined in a undated Russian Space web post on the "Soyuz-2 rocket series," the Russians have been slowly consolidating, relocating and upgrading their Soyuz subcontractor network inside the Russian Federation since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Soyuz-U production finally stopped in April 2015 as part of the transition process to Soyuz-2. Graphic c/o Starsem.

Of course, the Soyuz isn't the only Russian rocket to have recently failed. The December 2nd, 2016 Planetary Society post, "What's the matter with Russia's rockets?," lists fifteen Russian launch failures within the last six years.

Historian and space journalist Jim Oberg wrote about a Russian space program "Stuck in Decline" for the September 2015 issue of Aerospace America.

The article placed the blame for the Russian failures on shrinking finances, an aging demographics, growing quality control difficulties and "the long, slow decline of the country’s space industry after the breakup of the Soviet Union."

That decline, might just be starting to accelerate. As outlined in the December 2nd, 2016 Space Daily post, "Russia seeks answers on ISS cargo ship crash," the Russian investigation could delay the launch of the next Progress cargo ship, which is currently scheduled for February 2nd, 2017.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

1 comment:

  1. I think there is no definite answer to this and I believe we'll be able to find out more about the reasons behind after carrying out further investigation.


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