Latest News


By | April 28, 2008

      Russias Still Unsure Why Soyuz Has Landing Glitch; First Suspected Source Isn’t The Cause: Gerstenmaier

      Russia Uses Same Sleuthing Methods To Diagnose Soyuz That NASA Troubleshooters Used On Space Shuttle Atlantis

      Russian experts still are trying to determine why the dependable workhorse Soyuz spacecraft suddenly has developed a problem in returning to Earth, with two consecutive reentry-and-landing maneuvers ending in a rough "ballistic" plunge.

      The Soyuz likely will become the main or only vehicle transporting U.S. astronauts into space for half a decade, starting in 2010.

      In the latest problem, a Soyuz returning from the International Space Station with three crew members aboard plunged down sharply and landed in a field where farmers were burning crops, with flames setting Soyuz parachute material afire.

      Soyuz crew members opened the hatch, only to see smoke and flames, so they closed the hatch again until rescuers arrived.

      One early theory as to why the Soyuz problem recurs turned out to be wrong, and Russian experts have begun their detective work anew, according to William H. Gerstenmaier, associate NASA administrator for space operations.

      Responding to a question from Space & Missile Defense Report, Gerstenmaier said Russian experts are using an approach to detecting the glitch very similar to that which NASA used in December and early this year to track down the cause of a problem on Space Shuttle Atlantis.

      Apparently, some components failed to detach properly from the Soyuz capsule.

      Then, data from fuel sensor gauges obviously were in error. The low-fuel warning data is critical, because if the external fuel tank on a space shuttle runs dry, a disastrous explosion might occur.

      NASA experts used a fault tree, methodically setting forth all possible causes of the faulty data readings, and then one by one eliminating those not responsible until the culprit was found.

      While experts initially thought the fuel gauges near the bottom of the external fuel tank were at fault, it turned out the problem lay in faulty connectors in the data wiring as it passes from inside the external fuel tank to the outside and on to the orbiter vehicle. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, Feb. 4, 2008.)

      Russian experts now are using a similar fault tree to determine why Soyuz is plunging down and landing hundreds of miles short of its target landing zone.

      The Soyuz has been transported from its landing area in Kazakhstan to Moscow for examination, Gerstenmaier said.

      The fact that this problem has occurred before may aid in determining the cause, because much is learned with each recurrence.

      "They had a very extensive fault tree, which identified all of the probable causes for the Soyuz [ballistic landing off-target problem] the previous time," Gersetnmaier said.

      "They did like we do. They brought it down to the most likely of all of those. And that appears to not be the case. So now what they’ll do is, just like us, they’ll reopen that fault tree up so they’re not starting from scratch. They have identified all of the potential failures that could have led to what we saw, and now they’ll work through those logically one at a time to try to isolate now what the most probable is. They’ll get additional data from this vehicle, which will really help home in on what that problem is."

      Asked whether this is the same approach that NASA used on Atlantis, Gerstenmaier said, "They use the same engineering methodology, the same philosophy that we use in problem solving and risk" reduction.

      There are differences, however, between what the Russians and Americans face in their spaceships, he said.

      With the U.S. space shuttle fleet, it is 1970s technology, aging birds that have endemic design flaws, such as foam insulation that can rip free from the external fuel tank to damage the orbiter vehicle. That occurred in 2003 with Space Shuttle Columbia, later leading to loss of the ship and crew of seven.

      But even though the Soyuz uses a venerable design, that isn’t the problem with the Russian spaceship, Gerstenmaier indicated.

      "I don’t see it as an aging fleet problem," he said. "I think it’s more that the environment that we’re flying through is extremely difficult. We are on the edge of our technology to return from space."

      The ending of every mission, whether a Soyuz or space shuttle is used, involves taking a complex ship moving at more than 17,000 miles an hour and bringing it back through blistering heat of reentry, down to zero miles an hour at landing, he noted.

      But ultimately, the Russians and United States will benefit from discovering what is ailing the Soyuz, Gerstenmaier said, terming it "a great learning experience. We’ll learn from this. The Russians will learn from this. And we’ll make better designs as we move forward."

      He outlined how the Russian glitch investigation will proceed.

      "We’re still discussing with them their plans," he said. "They selected their commission. I think they’ve actually started doing some interviews in Russia. They’re beginning to work through the process. They’ll let us know here probably [this] week what their formal plan is. They share our same desire to get to most likely causes as soon as they can. We’ll see where they are."

      Soyuz Launches Giove-B Satellite For Galileo Global Positioning System

      Blastoff From Baikonur Cosmodrome Ends With Satellite In Orbit: Arianespace

      A Soyuz spacecraft rose on schedule from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to orbit another developmental satellite for the future European Galileo global positioning system, Arianespace reported.

      The Arianespace affiliate Starsem used the Soyuz with a Fregat upper stage to launch the Giove-B satellite, according to Arianespace.

      The satellite is the second launched by Starsem for the Galileo navigation system, following an on-target Soyuz flight with Giove-A in December 2005. The fully-deployed Galileo constellation will consist of 30 satellites, positioned in Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) at an altitude of 14,430 miles (23,222 km), inclined 56 degrees.

      Both the medium-lift Soyuz and heavy-lift Ariane 5 vehicles are poised to play a key role in launching the Galileo constellation, operating side-by-side from the European Spaceport in French Guiana, South America.

      Giove-B was produced by prime contractor EADS Astrium, and weighed 1,168 pounds (530 kg) at liftoff.

      The spacecraft was released in MEO after three burns of the Soyuz Fregat upper stage.

      Galileo is a joint initiative of the European Commission and the European Space Agency, providing a global positioning service under civilian control, according to Arianespace. It will be interoperable with the original U.S. Global Positioning System, and with the Russian Glonass network.

      Aerojet Missile Defense Engine Tested

      Aerojet ran a full-duration development test firing of its Axial HAN Thruster for the Missile Defense Agency and Raytheon Co. [RTN] Net-Centric Airborne Defense Element (NCADE) program.

      NCADE is an air-launched weapon system designed to engage short- and medium-range ballistic missiles in the boost and ascent phase of flight.

      The system provides an interim or near-term solution to boost or ascent phase threats, and is based on the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) that adds proven seeker technology from Raytheon.

      The Aerojet spiral development, second-stage propulsion system uses an advanced Hydroxylammonium nitrate (HAN) monopropellant thruster providing higher performance and high- density packaging to ultimately power lighter, higher-velocity missiles.

      HAN is less toxic and easier to handle than other propellants and could eventually enable safe shipboard operation. Technology was developed collaboratively between Aerojet and Air Force Research Laboratory.

      The design, build and test program has provided valuable risk reduction for the Axial Thruster and is widely recognized as a key advancement in fielding non-toxic propulsion systems, according to the company. The challenge to introducing new rocket propellant is to produce stable and controllable combustion. Aerojet achieved very stable combustion of HAN which will enable higher performance and better packaging. "Aerojet overcame significant technical challenges in this thruster development program," said Dick Bregard, Aerojet’s vice president of defense programs. "The monopropellant technology offers significant simplification and higher performance compared to existing systems," he said.

      Launch Schedule

      A variety of vehicles, launch sites on both U.S. coasts, shifting dates and times… the NASA Launch Schedule is easy to decipher by checking out our Launch Schedule 101 that explains how it all works. Go to to see this.

      Updated — April 23, 2008 – 1:10 p.m. EDT

      Legend: + Targeted For | *No Earlier Than (Tentative) | ** To Be Determined


      Date: *(under assessment)

      Mission: GLAST

      Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Delta II

      Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – Launch Complex 17 – Pad 17-B

      Description: An heir to its successful predecessor — the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory — the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope will have the ability to detect gamma rays in a range of energies from thousands to hundreds of billions of times more energetic than the light visible to the human eye. Radiation of such magnitude can only be generated under the most extreme conditions, thus GLAST will focus on studying the most energetic objects and phenomena in the universe.

      Date: May 31 +

      Mission: STS-124

      Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Discovery

      Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center – Launch Pad 39A

      Launch Time: 5:01 p.m. EDT

      Description: Space shuttle Discovery on mission STS-124 will transport the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module – Pressurized Module (JEM-PM) and the Japanese Remote Manipulator System (JEM-RMS) to the International Space Station.

      Date: June 15

      Mission: OSTM

      Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Delta II

      Launch Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base – Launch Pad SLC-2

      Launch Time: 4:47 a.m. EDT/1:47 a.m. PDT

      Description: The Ocean Surface Topography Mission on the Jason-2 satellite will be a follow-on to the Jason mission.

      Date: Aug. 9*

      Mission: IBEX

      Launch Vehicle: Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL Rocket

      Launch Site: Reagan Test Site, Kwajalein Atoll

      Description: IBEX’s science objective is to discover the global interaction between the solar wind and the interstellar medium and will achieve this objective by taking a set of global energetic neutral atom images that will answer four fundamental science questions.

      Date: Aug. 28 +

      Mission: STS-125

      Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Atlantis

      Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center – Launch Pad 39A

      Description: Space Shuttle Atlantis will fly seven astronauts into space for the fifth and final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. During the 11-day flight, the crew will repair and improve the observatory’s capabilities through 2013.

      Date: Sept. 14 +

      Mission: TacSat-3

      Launch Vehicle: Orbital Sciences Minotaur Rocket

      Launch Site: Wallops Flight Facility – Goddard Space Flight Center

      Description: NASA will support the Air Force launch of the TacSat-3 satellite, managed by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate. TacSat-3 will demonstrate the capability to furnish real-time data to the combatant commander. NASA Ames will fly a microsat and NASA Wallops will fly the CubeSats on this flight in addition to providing the launch range.

      Date: Oct. 16 +

      Mission: STS-126

      Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Endeavour

      Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center – Launch Pad 39A

      Description: Space Shuttle Endeavour launching on assembly flight ULF2, will deliver a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module to the International Space Station.

      Date: Oct. 28

      Mission: LRO/LCROSS

      Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Atlas V

      Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – Launch Complex 41

      Description: The mission objectives of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite are to advance the Vision for Space Exploration by confirming the presence or absence of water ice in a permanently shadowed crater at either the Moon’s North or South Pole.

      Date: Nov. 5

      Mission: GOES-O

      Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Delta IV

      Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – Launch Complex 17

      Description: NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are actively engaged in a cooperative program, the multimission Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite series N-P. This series will be a vital contributor to weather, solar and space operations, and science.

      Date: Dec. 1 *

      Mission: SDO

      Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Atlas V

      Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – Launch Complex 41

      Description: The first Space Weather Research Network mission in the Living With a Star (LWS) Program of NASA.

      Date: Dec. 4 +

      Mission: STS-119

      Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Discovery

      Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center – Launch Pad 39A

      Description: Space Shuttle Discovery launching on assembly flight 15A, will deliver the fourth starboard truss segment to the International Space Station.

      Date: Dec. 15

      Mission: OCO

      Launch Vehicle: Orbital Sciences Taurus Rocket

      Launch Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base – Launch Pad SLC 576-E

      Description: The Orbiting Carbon Observatory is a new Earth orbiting mission sponsored by NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder Program.

      2009 Launches

      Date: Feb. 1

      Mission: NOAA-N Prime

      Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Delta II

      Launch Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base – Launch Pad SLC-2

      Description: NOAA-N Prime is the latest polar-orbiting satellite developed by NASA/Goddard Spaceflight Center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA uses two satellites, a morning and afternoon satellite, to ensure every part of the Earth is observed at least twice every 12 hours. NOAA-N will collect information about Earth’s atmosphere and environment to improve weather prediction and climate research across the globe.

      Date: Feb. 16

      Mission: Kepler

      Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Delta II

      Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – Launch Complex 17 – Pad 17-B

      Description: The Kepler Mission, a NASA Discovery mission, is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to detect and characterize hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone.

      Date: March 1

      Mission: Glory

      Launch Vehicle: Orbital Sciences Taurus Rocket

      Launch Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base – Launch Pad SLC 576-E

      Description: The Glory Mission will help increase our understanding of the Earth’s energy balance by collecting data on the properties of aerosols and black carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere and how the Sun’s irradiance affects the Earth’s climate.

      Click on a tab to select how you'd like to leave your comment

      Leave a Reply