Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Progress 44 Failure Found

The Russian news agency Itar-Tass reports:

The Progress M-12M transport ship accident on August 24 was caused by a malfunction in the gas generator in the Soyuz carrier rocket’s third stage engine, Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) spokesman Alexei Kuznetsov told Itar-Tass on Monday, August 29.

“Members of the emergency commission have determined the cause of the failure of the Soyuz carrier rocket’s third stage engine. It is a malfunction in the engine’s gas generator,” he said.

The question now is how this will affect future deliveries of cargo or crew to the International Space Station.

NASA held a press conference yesterday discussing contingencies, which led various media outlets to publish articles with apocalyptic headlines suggesting the ISS might have to be abandoned:

Florida Today "Evacuation Strategy Puts Space Station at Risk"

Space.com "Astronauts May Evacuate Space Station in November, NASA Says"

SpaceFlightNow.com "NASA Assessing Procedures to Leave Space Station Vacant"

If you watch the first ten minutes of the above video, you'll find that it's too soon to conclude the demise of the ISS is imminent, or even that it will have to abandoned.

The more likely scenario for now is a delayed departure by the astronauts and cosmonauts who were scheduled to leave September 8.

Two driving factors may force reducing ISS crew. One is the shelf life of the two Soyuz vehicles currently docked at the ISS. The other is the available daylight and winter weather at the Kazakhstan landing site.

For all the recent political claims here that the United States has supposedly lost its space leadership, some voices in Russia now claim the same about their program.

Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Strategy and Technology Analysis, says that after the collapse of the Soviet Union "the space industry largely remained in the Soviet Union in the minds of the people ...

"You can throw as much money at the problem as you want, but there are no specialists, no administrative discipline and work ethic. Instead, what we see is pride of epic proportions in Russia as a leading space power, Russia taking Americans for space rides and Russia owning the ISS...," says Ruslan Pukhov. The time has come to face facts.

And another perspective:

Igor Lisov, editor of the industry magazine Cosmonautics News, believes that the root of the crisis in the industry is inability to create new things ...

"It might sound obvious, but each accident has a cause of its own," says Igor Lisov. "However, when a standard piece of equipment, which had worked fine seven hundred times, suddenly fails, you should start looking for technical breaches and negligence." Standard equipment can be manufactured successfully provided the proper controls are in place. "However, so far we have failed to achieve even the most basic things, such as making sure that the salary of a space engineer is higher than the salary of a cell phone salesperson," laments the expert. "If we don't achieve that, any attempts to ensure a good work ethic are doomed."

UPDATE August 31, 2011ESA News offers a different perspective on the Progress 44 incident, including this illustration depicting when and where the loss occurred:

Russian planners would like to see two successful unmanned launches of the Soyuz-U rocket before the next manned spacecraft, so the dates of the future missions — including the flight of ESA astronaut AndrĂ© Kuipers — are being assessed.

It has been decided to postpone the landing of Expedition 26 on Soyuz TMA-21 from 8 September to 16 September. The launch of the next Soyuz flight, Soyuz TMA-22, carrying Expedition 29, will be delayed to the end of October or the beginning of November, depending on the results of the commission.

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