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  Vostok Launch Pad Escape System

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Author Topic:   Vostok Launch Pad Escape System
Lasv3
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Posts: 222
From: Bratislava, Slovakia
Registered: Apr 2009

posted 08-15-2010 05:18 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lasv3   Click Here to Email Lasv3     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Recently I watched the original Soviet documentary released by Mosnauchfilm in 1963. The 60-minute movie "Mnogodnevnyi sovmestnyi kosmicheskyi polyot" or "Long duration group space flight" deals with the missions of Vostok 5 and 6.

Before the Vostok 5 rollout there is a sequence showing the test of the pad fire supression water spraying system and an enormous net placed between the pad concrete basic plate right side (looking from the railroad access side) and some construction located several tens of meters from there. This was described as a "unique rescue system of the cosmonaut before or shortly after launch." The net was visible also during the Vostok 5 launch.

I neither saw nor heard about such system before. There are several questions coming on mind:

  1. What was the exact purpose of such system when there was an ejection seat as a main rescue mode, and how was it to work?

  2. Was this unique for Vostok 5 launch only - a kind of test? I went through many photos and other movies and did not see it elsewhere, just in this one particular documentary.
Does anbody have any information on this system?

dom
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Posts: 439
From:
Registered: Aug 2001

posted 08-15-2010 07:38 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for dom   Click Here to Email dom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My impression of the Vostok ejection system is that the cosmonaut had his own personal parachute. There was only a small drogue parachute on the seat to stabilise it just enough to allow the pilot to unbuckle and come down on their own chute.

I think the large "net" you describe was to catch the seat (with cosmonaut still attached!) if they ejected on the pad and didn't have enough height for all of the above...

It all sounds very 'touch and go' to me and I'm sure they were glad it was never needed but spare a thought for the two Voskhod crews who launched without any means of escape!

Tonyq
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Posts: 150
From: UK
Registered: Jul 2004

posted 08-15-2010 07:44 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tonyq   Click Here to Email Tonyq     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have a translation of a Russian language document in my collection on this subject which is reproduced below.

Extract from: Molodtsov, V.V., "Design History of Sphere Vostok," Cosmic Almanac No. 5, 2001

Questions arose of emergency rescue of a cosmonaut in case of a launch failure of the booster rocket, as this was considered a rather probable event.

The percentage of unsuccessful launches was rather high, and working on this problem of rescue were B.G. Suprun and V.A. Yazdovski as co-authors of the System of Emergency Rescue (SAS), but actually, S.P. Korolev worked them through it.

On a regular basis he visited Suprun, he gave advice on increasing efficiency of this system and he knew the workings of this system to the smallest detail. This was natural for him, for the life of the cosmonaut, S.P. Korolev answered personally, and he did not remove this responsibility from himself.

SAS worked as follows:

  • From launch until T+40 seconds by radio command emergency ejection of the cosmonaut with the subsequent ejection of seat and a landing by parachute is made

  • From T+40 seconds until T+150 seconds, there is capability for an emergency shutdown of engines of the booster rocket and when the falling rocket has reached 7 km altitude emergency ejection of the cosmonaut, etc. is made.

  • From T+150 seconds until T+700 seconds from trailer contacts (Gyro equipment) there is an emergency shutdown of engines of the booster rocket and the separation of the decent module is made. However, the automatic system of normal landing joins from the independent time mechanism on 70th second of flight. After falling to 7 km descent proceeds under the regular plan;

  • From T+700 seconds until T+730 seconds there is an emergency shutdown on engines of the 3rd stage and the separation of the entire ship is made. At an input in dense layers of the atmosphere on a signal from other modes there is a division of the ship to subsequent descent SA under the regular scheme.
However the problem of rescue of the cosmonaut on the first 15-20 seconds of flight had no satisfactory outcome. The only thing that it was possible, was to hang out metal nets in an area where, after ejection, the cosmonaut was expected to fall, as in this situation, the parachute simply would not have time to deploy fully. But even if the cosmonaut survived this ejection, the resulting explosion and fire would probably kill them anyway. All the same, S.P. Korolev felt terrible because of the impossibility to solve the problem of rescuing the cosmonaut during these potentially fatal seconds, but a solution was impossible. In the end, Sergey Pavlovich has resolved, that piloted flights should be made only after two successful pilotless flights.
I'm not able to find the original source at present, but I'm sure it will be on the web somewhere.

My interpretation of this is that an on the pad abort, or a failure during the very early stages of an ascent would result in the cosmonaut being ejected at a very low altitude with little time for a parachute to open fully, so the large net was in position to catch them. Even so, as the document points out, they would still be dangerously close to the exploding booster so in reality, a launch pad failure was probably not a survivable accident.

Lasv3
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Posts: 222
From: Bratislava, Slovakia
Registered: Apr 2009

posted 08-15-2010 10:14 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lasv3   Click Here to Email Lasv3     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you both for the answers, it is a perfect explanation. In the meantime I found a photo from the Yuri Gagarin's launch and the net is there as well, obviously being used for all manned Vostok launches.

ColinBurgess
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Posts: 1567
From: Sydney, Australia
Registered: Sep 2003

posted 08-15-2010 06:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ColinBurgess   Click Here to Email ColinBurgess     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Brief mention is made of this rescue net on page 19 of "Into That Silent Sea."

Lasv3
Member

Posts: 222
From: Bratislava, Slovakia
Registered: Apr 2009

posted 08-16-2010 01:45 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lasv3   Click Here to Email Lasv3     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks Colin, now I have to correct myself - I heard about the net but I forgot...

Too bad

jasonelam
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Posts: 443
From: Monticello, KY USA
Registered: Mar 2007

posted 08-16-2010 10:26 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for jasonelam   Click Here to Email jasonelam     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Another question about the net would be whether or not there would be time for the ejector seat to release from the Cosmonaut before landing in the net. It seems the individual would be injured in either case, so it is more that likely something that they would not want to use.

Tonyq
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Posts: 150
From: UK
Registered: Jul 2004

posted 08-16-2010 11:00 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tonyq   Click Here to Email Tonyq     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think you can be pretty sure that the cosmonaut and ejection seat would not be separated during this emergency process.

In a nominal ejection, they would be separated after leaving the descending Vostok sharik by means of gravity. The cosmonaut would release their harnesses and the seat would fall away.

In this emergency situation, the cosmonaut and seat would be lobbed into the netting – rather like a human cannonball at the circus. Some broken bones would seem to be inevitable as a minimum level of injury.

Presumably, the net was primarily positioned to catch the ejecting cosmonaut from a booster that was still on the pad. If the failure occurred several seconds after launch, when the rocket was say, 100 or 200 or more feet above the pad, presumably the trajectory, angles, speed and other variables would be different and the chances of actually landing in the net significantly reduced (unless the net was very big!).

All in all, while this system was clearly the best they could come up with, a cosmonaut ejecting in these circumstances would seem unlikely to survive.

I have an interview somewhere in which Irina Solovyova, back-up to Tereshkova talks about this system -- I will see if I can find it.

kyra
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Posts: 507
From: Louisville CO US
Registered: Aug 2003

posted 08-17-2010 04:33 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for kyra   Click Here to Email kyra     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A poster at the Zvezda museum shows a scheme of an ejection sequence from the pad with the cosmonaut landing on a main parachute separate from the seat 120 meters from the rocket.

The maximum altitude reached is predicted at 80 to 90 meters. With these rough estimates there was room for doubt of just how far the main parachute would have deployed. The main deployed only about 40 meters above the ground in the scheme. The net served as a fail safe in the predicted best case scenario and a necessity that would break most of the acceleration of free fall in the worst case scenario.

Tonyq
Member

Posts: 150
From: UK
Registered: Jul 2004

posted 08-17-2010 10:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tonyq   Click Here to Email Tonyq     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This is an image of the poster Kyra refers to. The diagram with altitude and distances can be seen in the lower left.

It would be interesting to know if the Soviets actually tested this system in practice, with a ballasted dummy, or if it was just a desk top evaluation.

Tonyq
Member

Posts: 150
From: UK
Registered: Jul 2004

posted 08-21-2010 03:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tonyq   Click Here to Email Tonyq     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Here are a couple of screenshots from the film which started this discussion.

The netting can be clearly seen to the left or in the foreground. The proximity to the concrete launch table is clear, and it's also obvious that as well as purely breaking the cosmonaut's fall, the netting would stop them falling into the flame trench beneath the pad.

Lou Chinal
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Posts: 946
From: Staten Island, NY
Registered: Jun 2007

posted 09-16-2010 07:49 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I heard of 'the net' before, but never saw a photo of it.

Thank you all for a very descriptive narrative.

The margin of error would have the same probility of survival rate as 'punching out' during a carrier landing, with the wheels already on the deck.

Lou Chinal
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Posts: 946
From: Staten Island, NY
Registered: Jun 2007

posted 09-30-2010 03:08 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
You may want to check out the Vostok parachute backpack listed on eBay (280535012209).

kyra
Member

Posts: 507
From: Louisville CO US
Registered: Aug 2003

posted 09-30-2010 05:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for kyra   Click Here to Email kyra     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This is indeed genuine hardware developed for the Vostok program. However, I am not sure whether or not this was flown in space and worn by the dummy cosmonaut Ivan Ivanovich or not. The only way to know for sure is to verify the serial numbers against Zvezda's (the producer of this artifact)records such as the post flight inspection protocol.

Remember dozens of these units would have been built and tested in hundreds of jumps before being declared flight worthy.

All times are CT (US)

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