'); }
Rescue helicopters next to the askew Soyuz on Saturday (Shamil Zhumatov)

Soyuz Hard Landing: The Facts

24 Apr , 2008

by

Now the dust has settled news sources appear to be coherently reporting the events that unfolded early Saturday morning. As several readers have shown concern that reporting on the Soyuz ballistic re-entry makes us opposed to Russian efforts in space, I hope these points clearly show that this is not the case. In actuality, without the Russian Soyuz fleet of personnel/cargo supply spacecraft, much of the international community’s plans for space would be scuppered. So, what do we know happened after the Soyuz descent capsule undocked from the space station in the early hours of Saturday?

Well, most of the original reports appeared to be fairly accurate. From Tuesday, it seems that much of the reports from news agencies in the US and UK have been corroborated with the Russian news agency Interfax. On April 23rd, William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, gave a statement as to what went wrong. So here’s what we know:

  • Due to a technical fault, and not crew error, the Soyuz descent capsule did not separate from its propulsion module as planned. The explosive bolts used to separate the Soyuz modules before re-entry didn’t work on time. This may have resulted in the descent module and propulsion module hitting the atmosphere before they separated.
  • It is not clear if the modules were separated late by the explosive bolts, or if they were pulled apart (Gerstenmaier points out that they may break apart on re-entry, allowing the descent module and crew to make an emergency landing). Either way, a “ballistic re-entry” (rather than the planned guided re-entry) was the result. Ballistic re-entry was likened by Gerstenmaier to, “a bullet out of a rifle,” before the parachutes opened.
  • The crew experienced forces up to 8.2 times greater than Earth’s gravity.
  • The re-entry caused damage to the capsule escape hatch due to the angle of descent. Areas other than the heat shield had been burnt. The communications antenna was lost at this stage.
  • NASA confirms there was no communication with the capsule until cosmonaut Colonel Yuri Malenchenko was able to get free of the cabin and use a satellite phone to contact mission control. This was 30 minutes after touch-down.

The Soyuz landing site (Shamil Zhumatov)

So it appears the emergency landing was actually very successful. As pointed out by Gerstenmaier the Soyuz spacecraft design has “an inherent reliability in the system.” After all, the original manned Soyuz spacecraft design was launched in 1967, and since then there have been 99 missions (11 since 2002). It is a rugged and highly dependable space vehicle, and in 2010 when the Space Shuttle is retired we will need Soyuz to supply the space station and transport personnel. The Orion space ship isn’t scheduled to launch until 2015, so there is a five year gap that will need to be filled. NASA is looking into commercial options, but the tried, tested and reliable Soyuz remains the best option.

However, the way this incident was handled is highly worrying. I just hope that a thorough investigation into the technical fault and the way Russian officials covered up events is carried out, so future re-entries can be better managed.

In case you missed the Universe Today coverage of this story:

Sources: McClatchy
, Orlando Sentinel


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
www.actionforspace.com
Guest
April 24, 2008 7:28 PM

Gerstenmaier said in his hearing today that one way that they knew that the last flight didn’t separate is because they received telemetry from a cable that was supposed to be severed. He said the the problem could be due to a manufacturing change.

Al Hall
Member
Al Hall
April 24, 2008 8:21 PM
Ian……, No need to defend yourself… Really… One thing I know about Russians is that you have to understand what they are saying…. Not what they are ‘saying’..(speaking)…. I lived in Russia for four years (my current wife, for 11 years, is Russian)…. I understand.. They normally tell you the truth, they really do… But sometimes you have to stop focusing on the words and look at the face (the eyes).. They tell you that way.. They speak to you with their expressions.. And they expect you to know…. They do.. They may know the deal, but they are still proud people. For the people that have criticized you for seeming to be anti-Russian, I say they are… Read more »
George
Member
George
April 24, 2008 8:23 PM

Very nice to get these reports, Fraser. Thanks.

kbutler
Member
kbutler
April 25, 2008 5:22 AM

Ho. Ho. As I poorly spelled the other day, this smells of Shrub & Poo-Tin spreaqding FUD to mask the truth while they find out what the truth actually is.
The Russian capsule is rugged. So are the people aqnd the plans of those people.

However, the ones up front don’t always know where those people will push them,

1. find the cause
2. determine a solution
3. fix the problem

Seems to me that’s what they’re doing.

BTW, I did not see anywhere in any press about UT smearing the space program of either nation. Wonder who smeared that up in the first place!

marcellus
Guest
marcellus
April 25, 2008 7:01 AM

Molodyets, Universe Today!

hydrazine
Member
hydrazine
April 25, 2008 12:38 AM
I agree with Al. I’ve lived in Russia for seven years and I can tell you they would be prepared to go very far to promote their country or, if need be, cover up any embarrassing facts. The technicians they’ve got are beyond doubt every bit as competent and skillful as their counterparts in NASA or ESA. But, and this is a big “but”, the bureaucratic and social structures have changed very little if in fact at all since the bad old soviet days. This is the soul reason for all the weirdness that’s been going on. The top brass have it in their blood to deny everything that would put the system in bad light. They’ve been… Read more »
LLDIAZ
Guest
LLDIAZ
April 25, 2008 8:01 AM

As I said before a multi-continental space agency pooling its budget is the only way to effectively resolve any issues we are currently experiencing.

Brian Sheen
Member
April 25, 2008 1:33 AM

I must say that the initial reporting appeared to be not exactly pro Russian. All of us have had problems with technical malfunctions etc. The Russian contribution to the world space effort is essential and often the straightforward way is the best. Not too sure how a 5 year gap in the US provision was allowed to happen. However we must support our Russian friends and in the correct way. I note they have adopted one Health & Safety tip, a fence of plastic tape!!

pantzov
Guest
pantzov
April 25, 2008 1:52 AM

here’s a link to a related story (from the st.pete times)

Soyuz Reports Anger Russian Space Agency

http://www.sptimes.ru/index.php?action_id=2&story_id=25808

alphonso richardson
Guest
alphonso richardson
April 25, 2008 2:57 AM

Glad that’s sorted out, then………………

Roger Brannon
Guest
Roger Brannon
April 25, 2008 4:32 AM

When the Shuttle has a serious problem it kills everyone on board.When the Soyuz has a big problem it lands 200 miles miles short and the people on board experience 8Gs.BFD. And are our politicians cover up everything they can and lie to the world also

kcuhC
Member
April 25, 2008 4:53 AM

Since MIR no longer exists to perform psychological tests, they needed a replacement…we’ve found it!

Dark Gnat
Guest
Dark Gnat
April 25, 2008 5:54 AM

Statments about women being bad luck, and blaming the crew before there was any evidence at all to support the claim is worrying.

Had someone at NASA made claims like that, there would be public outrage, and that person would be forced to resign.

There is no doubt that the Soyuz is a tough machine, and it works. It just worries me when the old Soviet propaganda machine gets in the way of the truth.

FlyingRelic
Member
FlyingRelic
April 25, 2008 6:17 AM

I didn’t know that Russian aircraft still used the red star symbol…..would have thought it would have been replaced with Commonwealth colors by now……BTW, in reference to the comment about how the international community is counting on the use of the TM-14 to support the space station and without them “plans for space would be scuppered”, I think you mean “scuttled”……..and I agree with you!

DCTECHGUY
Member
DCTECHGUY
April 25, 2008 6:23 AM

Universe Today is a levelheaded and welcome addition to my inbox every time. Your coverage is great and I do not share others’ belief that you have a bias in your reporting. Please keep up the good work, this NASA Alumni appreciates all you do.

george duke
Member
george duke
April 25, 2008 8:03 AM

I have read the above personal accounts of the Russian People. An interesting bit of information that I read is concerning the Vikings!
If you think about it, what happened to the Vikings?
they were a strong and adventuresome society, so, where are they?
Turns out, they still exist today and they are Russian!

John Howell
Guest
John Howell
April 25, 2008 2:32 PM

OMG, space travel is dangerous? I never knew. Of course I hope they locate what went wrong and fix it without it being a witch hunt.
Until there is a vehicle that can operate with 100% safety there will always be risk (747s still crash sometimes) Still safer than crossing the road, and coming down form low earth orbit is still a pretty dangerous thing to do.

pantzov
Guest
pantzov
April 25, 2008 2:46 PM

for those of you that noticed the red stars on the helicopters:

vladimir putin reintroduced the red star onto military vehicles a few years ago.
he also brought back the old soviet anthem, but now with new lyrics.

wpDiscuz