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Accumulation of Russian Space Failures

The difference between the Progress/Soyuz-U verses the Soyuz-FG for Soyuz-TMA is difference mods but it appears to be the basic same system except the Progress/Soyuz-U booster uses the much older 11D55 known as the RD-0110 engine on the third stage as does the Soyuz-FG that uses the same RD-0110 engine. So there may be some light at the end of the tunnel for the proven entirely clean record of the Soyuz-FG booster for late September or an early October human crewed launch since the hardware is different.

The engine was produced under the Voronezh, Mechanical Plant dedicated factory in Southern Russia Federation. It is also the producer of the 11D58M, RD-58M used on Proton Blok-DM-03. The ILS organization under the former American ownership leadership before Khrunichev bought them out eliminated the Proton Blok-DM-03 configuration from it launch service offerings because of repeated failures from that engine and now we have the same organization failing in the RD-0110 engine. Due to these issues and others economic industry development consolidations they were placed under the control of the Khrunichev Research and Production Space Center on December 29, 2007, on the basis of the Khrunichev Plant and the Salyut Design Bureau, the then largest enterprises in the Russian space industry. In general these organization are now under the Khrunichev Space Center control âˆ' Polyot Production Corporation, Dlina Moscow Hardware Kitting Company, Voronezh Mechanical Plant, the Isayev Chemical Engineering Design Bureau, Space Rocket Plant, Salyut Design Bureau, Space Hardware Operating Plant and Medical Equipment Plant. This consolidation both helped but may also have created problems contributing to this failure in the long run due to the lack of long experienced personnel being transferred to an un-established quality control division of the Federal Space Agency when the Space Forces, Strategic Rocket forces left Baikonur operations.

Depending on the review of the telemetry and systems testing of the staging, guidance command & propulsion programming/hardware instrumentation software systems will probably define the issues involved in this incident. It does appear to be some kind of staging engine start up failure programming issue involved in the Soyuz-U third stage perhaps similar to previous experienced failures. It strikes me that the Soyuz-U/Soyuz-FG is more akin to the Molniya-M booster recently retired due to being outdated to the present technology so perhaps the Soyuz-U/Soyuz-FG should be replaced by the Soyuz-2 derivation for Progress & Soyuz launches.

It is very much the four failures systemic trend that goes back to 2010 with the Proton-M, Blok-DM-03 fourth stage GLONASS launch failure on December 5, 2010 followed by the ROKOT, failure February 1, 2011, then followed by another Proton-M Breeze-M fourth stage failure on August 18, 2011 and now finally the Progress M-12M/Soyuz-U booster failure on August 24, 2011. These and others failures point to serious follow through quality control failures long expected and of concern to Russian space analysts. It is apparent that the Proton-M Breeze-M fourth stage booster is showing many more failures indicating it is much more difficult to operate than anticipated as has also showed up in the Proton-M, Blok-DM-03 configuration. Both require a through reexamination.

Perhaps Russia's Space Forces were not involved in the launch preparation but that is not certain that was run by the industry personnel under the Federal Space Agency of Russia. That is because with little exception for specific military launches the Space Forces are believed to be no longer stationed on the Baikonur Cosmodrome, though many of them may now occupy new jobs in civilian positions if they were not retired.

What worries this analyst is the lack of experienced personnel being in control follow through lessons learned losses practices that may have played a critical part in these failures regardless of potential production quality control or whatever reasons turn out to be the causes.

Space Industry practices would definitely play a part in this quality control manned spaceflight hardware analysis if propulsion is involved as it appears with the Progress/Soyuz-U booster.

In the Soviet era they would not let a failure stop them as they would go on reliability of the batch production series, which can burn you occasionally. This will be demonstrated with the upcoming Soyuz-2.1B booster GLONASS launch expected from Plesetsk this week. That mission has now been stood down and being removed from the pad for a roll back to the MIK building and a thorough check out. It is only tentatively planned for launch in early to mid-September 2011. However this now involves human crewed flight of international crews and that will definitely give everybody pause to review all aspects of these failures. Whether it be launch vehicle control systems or circuitry or instrumentation/programming or propulsion failure it definitely reflects a pattern not seen in many years creating a Russian space program wakeup call long overdue. It is planned to go forward with the Soyuz-ST launch from Kourou in French Guiana planned for October 20, 2011 because the hardware involved in the Soyuz-U failure is not involved with this booster.

I definitely expect the lead State commissions will get at these problems and resolve then as quickly as possible. Definitely because of the commercial impact the State Commission will have to get its act together on these issues fast on behalf of the Russian Federal Government. I know a meeting planned with the space industry for Prime Minister V. Putin to participate has been cancelled due to the Proton-M Breeze-M failure but add the Soyuz-u failure to the mix and I would not like being a manager answering to him when he is known to be most displeased. Firing and State Prosecutor investigations may follow with those responsible jobs on the chopping block. The GLONASS failure brought about several Russian Federal Government ordered firing from the industry not the least of which includes the Federal Space Agency Administrator being politely replaced by retirement.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has now ordered what amounts to an "aerospace industry wakeup call stand down" call with the Federal Space Agency overhaul of its Quality Control of the industry under its leadership. That is the Federal Space Agency must now set up a new industry special quality control organization similar to that with in the Defense Ministry, Space Forces. Additionally it must set up a special all powerful group to supervise the manned space programs and its products spacecraft and launch vehicle hardware software and support services systems.

The U.S. federal government is to blame for this short fall of US space access capability. It should have ordered an updated modernized Saturn-V first and third stage into production instead of the U.S. Congress trying to be the dictating political election payoff design bureau followed by the Office of Management & Budget trying again to be the governing design bureau on behalf of the White House. It is the same political meddling process that gave us the dead end project that was the very dangerous Space Shuttle. Now the SLS is getting the same treatment. How many times do we have to go this way before we learn that this is not the way to go? The US has gotten exactly what it deserves and this is no reflection on our Russian partners that will correct the problems their way and get back to flight operations. Yes improvements in the industry practices are needed from this vantage point of this observer.

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