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  Soyuz TMA-04M: Viewing, comments, questions

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Author Topic:   Soyuz TMA-04M: Viewing, comments, questions
Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-27-2012 08:26 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Soyuz TMA-04M: mission viewing, questions, comments
This thread is intended for comments and questions about the Soyuz TMA-04M mission and the updates published under the topic: Soyuz TMA-04M mission to the space station.

TMA-04M will launch three new crew members for the Expedition 31 crew on board the International Space Station: NASA astronaut Joe Acaba and Roscosmos cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin.

TMA-04M will be the 113th flight of a Soyuz spacecraft since its first flight in 1967.

328KF
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posted 01-27-2012 08:58 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Something is seriously wrong in Russia. We need to get off of this reliance on their transportation without delay.

Unfortunately this comes on the heels of the news that no U.S. capability to transport astronauts to ISS will be in service for some time, and SpaceX seems to be losing it's luster, even among the Musk-loving press.

Anybody remember Marvin the Martian? "Delays, delays, nothing but delays..."

issman1
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posted 01-27-2012 09:10 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for issman1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
After the Progress M-12M and Soyuz Fregat were both lost in 2011, many voices were calling for NASA to wean itself off Russian dependency.

But then the US Congress slashed funding for commercial crew development and the inaugural commercial orbital transportation service mission by SpaceX was also delayed by technical problems. And now this astonishing defect with the Soyuz crew capsule.

If this is the state of spaceflight in the second decade of the 21st century then it does not bode well for the future.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-27-2012 09:14 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by 328KF:
"Delays, delays, nothing but delays..."
To be fair, this problem was caught during testing, which is the reason these tests are performed. Countless space shuttle missions were delayed due to tests, many of them conducted on launch day.

Hart Sastrowardoyo
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posted 01-27-2012 09:31 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hart Sastrowardoyo   Click Here to Email Hart Sastrowardoyo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I guess they have to figure out not only why it happened, but also make sure the next Soyuz capsule doesn't have the same problem? Is that why they simply can't switch seat liners to the next capsule and use it?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-27-2012 09:38 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
According to the source that spoke to Interfax, they are using the next descent module but there isn't enough time to get it ready to make the planned March 30 launch date.

This will also mean a delay to the launch of Soyuz TMA-05M, which had been scheduled for June.

Jay Chladek
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posted 01-27-2012 02:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Wow, I have never heard of a DM failing a pressure test like that. Usually those things are pretty robust and they take A LOT of pressure differential considering they have been designed to operate at sea level atmospheric pressure from day one (at a zero leakage rate).

Do we know where the structure failed? I would be curious to see if it was a crack failure or if there was a failure point at a hole (such as a vent hole or where an antenna was added). So something would have been punched out during the pressure test and it caused a crack to spread.

No matter how you slice it, scrapping a descent module is pretty expensive, given the amount of hardware already installed in it when the test was made. And even though tests are designed to catch this, it is certainly not something I would have expected to happen with a 40 year record of built DMs for all variants of the Soyuz.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-27-2012 05:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Alexei Krasnov, Roscosmos' manned space program chief, has contradicted the earlier report in an interview with ITAR-TASS.
Krasnov acknowledged that several days ago some problems really emerged at the stage of tests for a descent capsule in the altitude test chamber of the Energia Space Rocket Corporation (the pressurization limits were exceeded). But the problems are related to a service element, rather than the descent capsule, "The deformation of a service system was detected. The committee was formed and is investigating how seriously the malfunction was: whether it was a material defect or technologies. Probably, next week some decisions will be taken," Krasnov noted.

Yet, Krasnov did not rule out that "the schedule of piloted missions will be revised," but he sees no tragedy in this. "There are program reserves to deal with the emerged problem," he underlined.

328KF
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posted 01-27-2012 09:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
To be fair, this problem was caught during testing, which is the reason these tests are performed. Countless space shuttle missions were delayed due to tests, many of them conducted on launch day.
Multiple issues here Robert...
  1. For a large percentage of it's operational lifetime, the shuttle could pretty much launch whenever it was ready. There was no need for reliable, timely, runs to and from a destination in orbit.

  2. During the time requiring crew transport, we had a backup... Soyuz. Now Soyuz is primary with no backup.

  3. Russia has demonstrated repeatedly that it is struggling in the role of primary transportation. Manufacturing issues and quality control seem to be the main issues here. I can't speculate on the nature of the test failure, but whether these problems occur on the test apparatus or the vehicle itself still point to the same systemic and cultural issues.

  4. The U.S. gave up all operational and strategic control of crew transport to ISS when it allowed a gap to develop between capabilities and now appears ready to accept an even wider gap because we are strangling CCDev just like we did Cx/Orion.

  5. Another section of the recent ASAP committee report disclosed that the potential for loss of the ISS due to catastrophic failure or damage (something I brought up over a year ago) has been grossly underestimated. I think the new number was a 1 in 55 chance for a standard 180 day manned mission, or 30% over it's remaining lifetime.
It seems to me that given this fact, every single delay which pushes a manned evolution to the right cuts into the very limited amount of time remaining to utilize ISS, a capability that we could possibly lose at any moment.

Frustrating, to say the least.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-27-2012 09:50 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by 328KF:
Russia has demonstrated repeatedly that it is struggling in the role of primary transportation.
There's no question that Russia has experienced several problems of late, but I can't help but think our perception is somewhat influenced by the fact that we're not used to hearing of Soyuz schedule slips.

Had this been shuttle, regardless of when in the 30-year program it occurred, a delay would be taken more in stride, even if it was during a time critical period. We were used to shuttle launch dates slipping to the right for any number of reasons.

As for backups, the U.S. flew for decades without any backup. And when Columbia was lost, few if anyone was concerned that Soyuz was flying without one.

Back to the situation at hand, Soyuz TMA-04M, even if shuttle was still flying, our astronauts would still be flying on Soyuz and be waiting for the replacement descent module to be ready. The Soyuz has served as the only lifeboat for the ISS; the ability for the U.S. to launch from its own soil had no influence on that role.

328KF
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posted 01-28-2012 09:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Okay, assume we leave the shuttle history out of it and just look at Russia's problems.

They have the only ride. They had a string of failures over the last year which threatened to de-man the ISS. A Proton rocket was just this week rolled back from the pad for an undisclosed technical problem with the booster.

Now to be fair, Progress just arrived successfully and obviously EXP 30 is safely underway.

But how long will it be before these cultural issues (by that I mean safety, quality control, and risk acceptance of the organization, not differences in nationality) find their way into the critical path of ISS operations?

ISS took much longer to construct than planned. Only now are safety experts assessing it's useful lifespan as being at much greater risk than previously suggested. We cannot have much influence on Russia's program or how to fix it, except with more cash.

Instead, that money should be spent on fast tracking a U.S. capability rather than slowly bleeding a program with delayed funding and fading political support.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-28-2012 11:02 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by 328KF:
Only now are safety experts assessing it's useful lifespan as being at much greater risk than previously suggested.
While I would never advocate ignoring safety concerns, finding and addressing a problem during a test designed to make sure a spacecraft is safe is not something I would use to justify increased worry.

I am not suggesting that U.S. commercial efforts shouldn't be aggressively pursued, but they will be just as susceptible to technical problems and launch delays. There may be a day, even after U.S. vehicles are flying, that we'll want or need to fly our astronauts on Soyuz, and that shouldn't be looked upon as a necessarily bad thing.

328KF
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posted 01-28-2012 02:21 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
While I would never advocate ignoring safety concerns...
Respectfully Robert, I don't think we're talking about the same thing. I'm referring to the recent findings of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel. The report can be found here, and is a fairly quick, yet troubling read. Among the concerns:
Analyses presented to the ASAP on several occasions, most recently in May 2011, stated that the probabilistic risk assessment (PRA) related to ISS Loss of Mission (LOM) was 1 in 55 for a 180-day mission. Since there are approximately 20 180-day missions in the currently projected ISS Program, this means that there is a greater-than-30-percent chance that the ISS could sustain a LOM sometime during its projected operating life...
And:
It appears to the ASAP that the fiscal year (FY) 2012 funding level approved by Congress, which was less than half of what was requested by the Administration, will not allow commercial crew transportation to the ISS by 2016...

In fact, if the new funding level continues into the future, it is the ASAP's belief that the program is in jeopardy, thus extending the current lack of a U.S. human spaceflight capability and resulting in no alternative to reliance on Russia to obtain access to the ISS.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-28-2012 05:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I am aware of the report...
quote:
Originally posted by 328KF:
I don't think we're talking about the same thing.
I feel the ASAP's concerns are not directly related or applicable to the Soyuz TMA-04M launch preparations. But returning to that subject, Anatoly Zak has offered some insight into the nature of the test and the problem encountered.
According to industry sources, a small breach in the descent module was discovered on January 23, during testing at a barometric chamber at the Check and Test Facility, KIS, of RKK Energia in Korolev. When specialists checked the interior of the descent module, they reportedly discovered that internal surfaces of the vehicle were distorted and bloated.

Initial data showed that the descent module had been pressurized up to 3 atmospheres, instead of nominal 1.3-1.5 atmospheres, even though tests personnel had claimed that followed all standard procedures for during test. Such tests normally include raising of pressure in stages.

The bad quality of material of the spacecraft, which had been manufactured in the summer of 2011, had also been suspected.

Jay Chladek
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posted 01-28-2012 07:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well, in the Russians defense, their own countrymen will always fly on the Soyuz and there is always a Russian in command of a Soyuz on each of its flights, even if he might be the only Russian in a crew of three. On shuttle, it was typically our astronauts who would be flying them, Japanese, ESA and Canadian along for the ride and very rarely ever a Russian unless it was a whole crew swap (not really done since Expedition 5-6) or for some required support capacity.

So, of course Roscosmos has more of a vested interest in this since the lives of more of their countrymen are on the line (if you count launch pad technicians, fuelers and space industry workers) with each launch than Americans.

The Russians going back to the Salyut 6 and 7 days had a long period of success, but it was not 100% success as in a five year stretch, there was a docking probe failure, a service module rocket failure that prevented Soyuz 33 rendezvous with Salyut 6, a launch abort rocket firing, and a problem with a Soyuz T coming home. In all that time prior to Mir, that was their most successful stretch and it was during a period when NASA was not flying a thing as the Shuttle wasn't ready yet. Each time it happened though, the managers and workers at Energia picked up the pieces, analyzed the data and fixed what was wrong, then resumed flying in short order.

While I look at things with concern, it is not too much concern... yet. But it is a bit odd I must say. Statistically based on the 40 years of Soviet and Russian station operations since Salyut 1, the Russians run a pretty tight ship most of the time and during the dark days of Mir, the Soyuz craft did not generate a hiccup as I recall (probably because the workers on that program wanted to make sure they remained gainfully employed). It seems like some of these problems might be due to a little complacency creeping in, which as we know from Challenger and Columbia can be dangerous.

Likely not much long term will come of this (and I hope it doesn't). Personally I welcome the debate though as maybe it will light a fire under the rears of those in DC and those currently on the campaign trail. But, going too fast can be just as dangerous (as Apollo 1 showed). So the calls for a replacement have to be tempered with the desire to do it right as opposed to rushing something and ending up in worse shape.

All that said, the one thing I have never liked about the Soviet and Russian space programs is getting straight answers out of somebody in management and getting the same story can be like using a crowbar on a bank vault door. Take this situation as first we have somebody saying it was a descent module problem, then somebody saying "no it was a service module problem" followed by somebody else now saying it was a descent module problem. And all this coming after one of the high managers throwing out an accusation of sabotage in regards to a couple previous failures. This type of old school Soviet intrigue and double speak with behind the scenes finger pointing I think is fine for a James Bond movie or a spy novel perhaps, but not for a space agency where managers seem more comfortable with posturing and CYA than giving straight answers about a problem and wanting to fix it. That may have been the way it was done in the Soviet system, but it really has to stop.

How I long for the days of guys like Chertok and Feoktistov in charge as middle level managers at OKB-1 through the name changes to Energia. At least with all the crap that went on above them with Korolev's death and Mishin's antics, they still were able to get the answers they needed and pressed ahead to make things as successful as they were in the early days of Salyut and the liaison work with NASA to make ASTP a success. I know they had long retired before both men passed away, but at least when they were around, people could ask how to really get things done when they needed to get done.

328KF
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posted 01-28-2012 10:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
All great points Jay, very well said. I think you are getting to the heart of what I was arguing. We may be headed for a cliff. All the warning signs are there but some don't seem to be paying them any attention.

Another thought is that given Russia's tight budgetary constraints, and tendencies to put up a facade of what is really going on, maybe the multiple failures of last year are the result of funneling inordinate amounts of resources into ISS commitments.

Crew transport gets by, but the cash strapped unmanned probes and satellite launchers suffer in the meantime.

This is where that ASAP report has everything to do with this recent failure.

  • No U.S. capability (report) + potential loss of Russian capability (latest news and track record) = No ISS

  • Greater than anticipated risk of ISS loss (report) = no need for crew transport (potential end of U.S. space program)

  • Underfunded Russian and/or U.S. crew transport leading to system failures or operational errors could themselves endanger ISS (think Progress/Mir collision) = same result
Not trying to be all doom and gloom...we may dodge bullets for years to come, but if this esteemed panel has reason to be concerned, I would hope NASA, the President, and Congress will take notice.

The writing is definitely on the wall.

Jay Chladek
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posted 01-29-2012 04:42 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I understand your points 328, although I think even if a fatal mishap were to occur with a Soyuz (I think there are enough checks and balances to keep that from happening though), any abandoning of the ISS would be relatively short term. Big thing is even if we had shuttle still, without a Soyuz to act as a lifeboat, you can't run the risk of sticking a crew up there anyway for any longer than a 14 day period before a shuttle has to return home. So the ISS has ALWAYS been more dependent on Soyuz than shuttle in terms of occupation requirments (shuttle being more the big haul logistic support vehicle with its loss making an impact during the period from STS-107 to STS-114's flight).

As for something like the Progress Mir collision to the ISS, with the way the on orbit ISS management is run, I doubt you will ever see anything like that again. Space X managed to get permission to combine two of its Dragon tests into one with a possible near approach, but NASA is keeping them on a VERY tight leash (as they should). Part of the reason for that WAS the Progress collision.

The ISS systems can pretty much be run autonomously from the ground thanks to how the systems are set up. Granted if the station did have to be abandoned temporarily, there is still some risk involved with that. But I don't think we are talking about a two year delay as we saw with Challenger and Columbia. Each Soyuz craft is freshly made and when a problem is understood, the corrections can be made relatively quick. Shuttle on the otherhand with it being the ONLY vehicle for US manned spaceflight meant that the rest of the fleet had to be modified in the stand down periods. Apollo 1 was unique in that there was still going to be a bit of a delay before the Block 2 CSMs (which were required for lunar flights) were ready to fly anyway.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 02-02-2012 05:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Jay Chladek:
Do we know where the structure failed?
Quoting ISS manager Michael Suffredini from today's press conference:
[The decent module] was exposed to a pressure that was significantly higher than what they had planned and that caused localized deformation on an area — it's a compartment where the peroxide thrusters are housed — and it caused some localized deformation in the cracks of some spot welding joints in this area and caused some very small leaks, but leaks all the same.

All times are CT (US)

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