“Mars500 – European candidates selected”, ESA news, 27 May 2008. 32 candidates were selected out of the thousands of applicants, and the final selection (two ESA candidates) for the experiment will be taken from these 32. (I do wish the IMBP would redesign their awful website!)
Thursday, 29 May 2008
Wednesday, 28 May 2008
“Space station struggles with balky toilet”, James Oberg, MSNBC.com, 27/5. An overview of the ISS ASU malfunction. Despite attempted fixes it is still not working properly, so some spare parts will be flown up on the next Shuttle flight.
Byerly did not address other reports, passed along privately to MSNBC.com, that a “fabrication flaw” has been discovered in the toilet’s compressor units. One source in Houston said that the hardware used there for crew training may be flown to Florida for launch aboard Discovery, even though it too is expected to fail quickly. The source was not authorized to discuss the situation publicly, and thus spoke on condition of anonymity.
A major new unit, intended to allow the expansion of crew size from three to six members, is being prepared for launch late this year. Until then, the current hardware – and the supply of “Apollo bags” for fecal collection – may have to suffice. And if previous experience is any guide, the Russian engineers and cosmonauts will find McGyver-type solutions to make it work.
ASU Update: Troubleshooting continues on the Russian ASU toilet facility. Almost all system components have been changed out at this time, including the separator with no improvement in function. Specialists feel the problem is with the separator pump, though they have never before seen this failure signature. New procedures for temporary manual operation of the pump are in work, and the crew is using a backup system of wring collectors which are functioning nominally. Since they are a consumable, 1J is being last-minute manifested with additional wring collectors and a new ASU separator pump (KSC ground unit).
“Time To Break Out The Bags” at NASA Watch gives instances of where the ASU has been down before, though these are relatively minor. 14/2/2005: ASU parts were replaced as they had come to the end of their operational life; 29/7/2003: three components replaced. The ASU has otherwise been generally reliable.
“The losing hand: tradition and superstition in spaceflight”, The Space Review, 27/5. An overview of various spaceflight superstitions. (I have a page at my “RuSpace” website describing some.)
Tuesday, 27 May 2008
“Another visit to Mars. It’s the Americans again”, RIA Novosti, 26/5. Opinion piece by Andrei Kislyakov on what Russia’s Mars plans are (none for the near-future, unfortunately).
The Russian Space Agency does not have a clearly articulated Martian program. There is a reason for that. Russia at present is implementing the Federal Space Program for 2006-2015, which does not envisage large-scale Martian projects.
At the same time Roscosmos has repeatedly said that manned missions to Mars are certain to take place after 2030-2035. Next year will see the start of the much-touted Mars-500 project, when a group of volunteers will spend 520 days in a special module simulating the conditions of a prolonged space flight. As part of that project the Russian Medical-Biological Research Institute in late May completed experiments to assess the capacity of the human body to spend prolonged periods in a confined space with low oxygen content.
In addition, a detailed plan of a manned expedition to Mars has long been developed, as many Russian space officials have declared. The head of RKK Energia corporation, Vitaly Lopota, has been speaking about the Martian project developed by his corporation.
“The complex includes an interplanetary orbital vehicle, the power tug, and the take-off and landing complex. The interplanetary expedition complex should be assembled and tested in the near-Earth orbit as a reusable vehicle with a mass of up to 500 tons and a life span of 15 years. It would have a crew of four to six people. The mission to Mars would last up to 900 days, including a one-month stay on Mars of a crew of two to three people,” Lopota said in a interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta in early February of this year.
If Russia did manage to put the first humans on Mars, this would more than compensate for past disappointments!
“Pyrobolt failure caused Soyuz bumpy re-entry – Roscosmos”, RIA Novosti, 24/5. The main cause of the Soyuz TMA-11 ballistic re-entry was the failure of one of five pyrobolts to separate the Descent Module from the Instrumentation/Propulsion Module, so the separation occured later in the descent.
Mars-500 update: 24 May 2008 was the last day of a week of interviews at the ESA’s European Astronaut Center at Cologne (32 candidates were called, 8 will be selected). The results (final ESA choice) will be communicated to the candidates by the end of this month. Training for the 105-day mission will begin in August/September 2008.
An annoyed posting in defence of the Buran space shuttle at the Unmanned Spaceflight.com forum:
“How the Soviets Stole a Space Shuttle” >:-(
“How the Soviet Space Shuttle Fizzled” >:-(
What utter rubbish. Reading these biased hachet-jobs, one would think that the Buran orbiters were some sort of stolen xerox-copy of the US Shuttle. That is complete nonsense. The Buran orbiter was an aerodynamic copy of the Shuttle because that is what the customer (Soviet Military) wanted, ie a like-for-like equivalent of what they believed would be a strategic weapon system. From the outside it looks very similar (especially to technically-challenged journalists) but internally the Buran was engineered indigenously using Soviet technology & engineering practises.
This shoddy and parochial “journalism” is just another example refusing to give the Soviets appropriate recognition for their acheivements. Mean spirited and petty, some people just don't get that the Cold War is over.
Vassili Petrovitch has a section on his Buran site recounting his group tour of Star City and Baikonur in Russia, attending the recent launch of TMA-12.
Monday, 26 May 2008
Expedition 17 has been having some trouble with the toilet (ASU) in the Zvezda Service Module malfunctioning! It’s been fairly reliable for many years (as far as I know), but has developed some mechanical problems (noted in this NASASpaceflight.com thread):
Russian ASU malfunction: While using the ASU toilet system in the SM, the crew heard a loud noise and the fan stopped working. After some troubleshooting the crew reported that the air/water Separator (MNR-RS) was not working. The crew then replaced the separator with a spare unit but reported afterwards that the ASU lacked suction. The crew next replaced the F-V filter insert, which provided good suction for a while but again exhibited weak suction. TsUP/Moscow instructed the crew to deactivate the ASU and use the toilet facility in the Soyuz spacecraft. (21 May ISS Daily Report)
The Soyuz toilet provides some backup and if all else fails:
Yes, the toilet is working again – but we are holding our breath. There were some spare parts but I do not think they came on the ATV. When this breaks down there is a toilet in the Soyuz but it has limited functionality and is not popular among the crew. There are also Apollo bags (developed on Apollo, just a basic bag). Not very pleasant.
They got the ASU partially working but then it stopped again. Update from the 25/5 ISS Daily Report:
The decision was made today to have the crew R&R the MNR (Micropump Separator) with the last spare they had onboard. Preliminary indications are that the R&R of the MNR has fixed the problem, although specialists continue to monitor the situation. Preparations are in work to fly a replacement MNR on 1J if requested.
There was also a spill of Freon coolant:
The Freon spill (~600 g) occurred on 29/4 after the replacement of the SKV-2 air conditioner compressor. To clean up quickly, the Russian BMP (Russian Harmful Impurities Removal System) was moded to regenerate its absorbent beds every 5 days instead of the regular 20 days. Freon-218 (Octafluoropropane/C3F8, Russian: Khladon) is safe (low toxicity, perhaps some irritation) and noncorrosive if not heated above ~600°C. Primary hazard is oxygen displacement, as witness the Ozone Layer, but there is not enough C3F8 on board the ISS to significantly deplete any atmospheric oxygen.
Replacement parts were sent up on the recent Progress M-64:
Part of its cargo complement includes replacement freon and parts to hopefully allow repair of the Service Module thermal system. If successful, the Russian segment can once again collect condensate and process water to use in the Elektron to provide O2.
The Mars Phoenix Lander successfully landed yesterday at 23:38:44 UTC, (Melbourne time today at 9:38 a.m.) or 23:53:44 UTC as recorded on Earth – it takes 15 minutes for signals to travel from Mars to Earth at their current distance (30 minutes there and back). It was launched on 4 August last year, so that is over 9 months to travel to Mars. Russia has no involvement in the mission – their unmanned space exploration program has been dismally absent since the failed 1996 Mars 96 mission.
The main official sites for the lander are at NASA and the University of Arizona. Some images have been sent back but rather disappointingly they are black-and-white. I wonder why a true-color camera that would record colors as humans would see them has not been included on any mission? There is a color-calibration tool which gives an approximation of the colors.
Sunday, 18 May 2008
From Novosti Kosmonavtiki news №703. Cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov criticizes the space agency’s emphasis on flying space tourists who take the seats of professional cosmonauts.
5/5/2008/20:11 – Space tourism is a problem for professional astronauts, pilot astronaut Pavel Vinogradov believes
Space tourism is a great challenge for professional astronauts. This opinion was expressed in an interview with a correspondent from ITAR-TASS news agency during a recent leadership meeting of NPO Energomash with the cosmonaut deputy head of Flight Space Center, RSC Energiya pilot-cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov.
“Space tourism,” he said, “for we professionals to date, unfortunately, is a big problem. It does not solve any of our financial problems and undermines the foundations of our manned space program because we are forced to remove young cosmonauts and put in their place tourists. They to some extent, interfere with normal operations.”
According to him, “when the ISS crews are complete, when there are no issues – let the ‘tourists ’ fly. ” “Personally, I,” said Vinogradov “have no complaints about any of the tourists, they are all very good people, professionals of the highest rank in their fields. But they are not professional cosmonauts. And today, unfortunately, we can find a place for them but not professionals.”
Speaking of the scientific programme of the International Space Station, the pilot-astronaut, in particular, noted that “the ISS, in terms of its solvable scientific problems, unfortunately does not so far justify itself. Today we obtain results from the Station that are a percentage of what we received at the Station Mir,” he explained. “Of course, the reliability of ISS is much higher than that of Mir and even more so with the Salyuts, but we are constantly behind with the scientific programs.”
“Today a crew of three people can do some science and can fully occupied on the Station,” added Vinogradov, “but when a crew of 6 people lives on the Station, there will arise the issue of how to occupy them. Research is so constructed that we must always anticipate the possibilities of the delivery of scientific experiments on board, and we always lag behind.” According to the cosmonaut, “today we to a larger degree fly for this reason, or to transport our American and other partners to the ISS.”
“Soyuz debate considers removing US presence from the ISS”, NASASpaceflight.com, 16/5. NASA officials are considering bringing the U.S. ISS crewman, Garrett Reisman, down on the next Shuttle flight (STS-124 Discovery), because of the uncertainty around the cause of Soyuz TMA-11’s off-nominal ballistic landing. In that case, Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko would have to entrust themselves to the TMA-12 and hope it works OK!
Thursday, 15 May 2008
“Internal NASA Documents Give Clues to Scary Soyuz Return Flight”, James Oberg, IEEE Spectrum, May 2008. James Oberg gives a measured account of the events of the off-nominal Soyuz TMA-11 landing; what is known to date. There are also some diagrams from a NASA document. Novosti Kosmonavtiki news №702 also mentioned the article, saying that it is interesting material with a calmer tone in contrast to reports in the Russian media. “Oberg writes that the events on 19 April were very unpleasant, but they again demonstrated the reliability of the Soyuz spacecraft, which has accumulated nearly 100 manned missions. A flattering estimation, but it reflects reality.” Comments at the relevant thread at NASASpaceflight.com. There are some at the NK forum (in Russian, try Babelfish to translate), though they seem a little more dismissive (as much as I can make out from the translator).
“Perilous Landings by Soyuz Worry NASA”, Washington Post, 12/5.
Progress M-64 launched on 14 May at 20:22:56.216 UTC. One item it carries is a new Sokol pressure suit for ISS Commander Sergei Volkov as his has a damaged zipper (4 teeth misaligned).
From Novosti Kosmonavtiki news №703, concerns with difficulties in recruiting cosmonauts:
4/05/2008/00:18 – Manpower is a serious problem for NPO Energomash, and for RKK Energiya’s cosmonaut group
Manpower is a serious problem for the famous creator of rocket engines NPO Energomash, and the RSC Energia cosmonaut group. This was stated by the CEO of NPO, Nikolai Pirogov, and the Deputy Leader Flight Space Center RSC Energiya pilot-cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov at a recent meeting with the cosmonauts at Energomash.
“The problem of manpower and the problem of technical reequipping are the main challenges before us,” Nikolai Pirogov said in reply to a question. “With regard to personnel,” he elaborated, “this is an extremely acute problem. For three years we have managed to reduce the average age of staff for 4 years and now it is 49 years old, but it is still an advanced age.” As pointed out by the Director General, “a good, qualified fitter takes 5-6 years to train.”
As for his side, said Pavel Vinogradov, “the staffing problem, the problem of recruiting youth into the cosmonaut group is serious.” “We would like to recruit 5-7-8 people a year,” he said “but, unfortunately, today we select only one or two.”
“The problem is not serious because few are willing to apply,” added the pilot-cosmonaut, “many do apply, but we have a very strict selection system. According to our statistics, from thousands of military pilots, who are understandable, initially are healthy people, we initially draw 20 people. Then, when they start to take our commission, we select the healthiest two or three. We are reaping the fruits of what happened in the country 15-20 years ago, and healthwise, from a medical point of view, it is very difficult to select people.”
“In Energiya the requirements are considerably more stringent, ” noted Vinogradov. “Besides being healthy, an applicant must have professional knowledge, must be very good engineer, be very diversified, multitalented, with good preparation from a good university. And such people there are generally only one, if not less.”
According to him, “the financial side is also a problem.” “Today the highest salary among pilots, cosmonauts, who have classes already flew at 15 940 rubles,” he said. “We once tried to solve this problem, in particular, by paying the remainder to us from the corporation. But it is abnormal when a cosmonaut receives less than a subway train driver. I can not say that we do not pay attention,” stressed Vinogradov, “unfortunately, there are many unresolved legal and legislative problems that have remained since the Soviet Union and deal with them is very difficult. But we are working toward a solution.”
Tuesday, 6 May 2008
“Suits For Shenzhou”, Space Daily, 5/5. The spacesuits that will be used for the Chinese spacewalk are derived from the Russian Orlan spacesuit. It’s not clear whether these are Chinese-made, or purchased from Russia.
In this week’s edition of The Space Review, there are two articles about available space magazines: “Dead trees and the final frontier” and “A quick guide to space news publications in print”. The only spaceflight-specific magazine available in Australia that I know of is Spaceflight – I quit buying it a few years ago because it got too expensive (now over $10), and most articles tend not to be of interest to me. Novosti Kosmonavtiki seems to be the best one, but it is not available in an English translation.
Not much more information on the cause of the Soyuz TMA-11 rough landing. Russian Space Web notes that the TMA-12 relocation from one port to another (Pirs to Zarya) is canceled (there is a remote possibility that the crew would have to abandon the ISS if anything went wrong, and they don’t want to risk another ballistic landing). A contingency spacewalk might be undertaken to inspect one of the pyrotechnic locks that separate the modules before descent. Yi So-yeon also suffered unspecified back injuries from the landing as she was on the side that hit the ground hardest (FPSpace May 2008).