Friday, September 16, 2011

ISS Soyuz Crew Returned in Radio Silence

Spaceflight Now reports that Russia did not know if the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft had survived re-entry until its parachutes were observed before landing. Image source: NASA. reports, "A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying three of the International Space Station's six crew members suffered an unexpected communications blackout just before plunging back into Earth's atmosphere late Thursday, completing a nail-biting descent in radio silence with repeated calls from flight controllers near Moscow going unanswered."

There was no immediate explanation for the communications drop out, but the repeated, unanswered calls from mission control near Moscow were eerily reminiscent of the fruitless calls to the shuttle Columbia during the orbiter's ill-fated descent to Earth in 2003.

But the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft completed its return to Earth safely, if in silence, and all three crew members appeared to be in good health.

This was the third significant anomaly to affect Russian space flight in recent weeks.

On August 18, Russia lost the Express-AM4 satellite after an anomaly in the Breeze-M third stage engine.

A Progress M-12m transport ship bound for the ISS was lost on August 24 when a gas generator malfunctioned due to a clogged fluid line in the third stage.

Elsewhere, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that a Russian space agency official said SpaceX will only be allowed to fly by the ISS in December but not dock.

A NASA tweet in response stated:

Sorry, despite @ria_novosti reports, a decision has yet to be made regarding the upcoming @SpaceXer test flight to ISS. Incorrect story.

Last April, another Roscosmos official said that SpaceX wouldn't be allowed to dock at the ISS unless it's proven safe:

"We will not issue docking permission unless the necessary level of reliability and safety [of the spacecraft] is proven. So far we have no proof that those spacecraft duly comply with the accepted norms of spaceflight safety," said Alexei Krasov, who heads the manned spaceflight department of Roscosmos.

Given their recent sorry track record, the Russians are hardly in a position to claim the moral high ground when it comes to space flight safety.

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