International Space Station is Racing the Clock After Soyuz Failure

Today’s failed Soyuz launch thankfully resulted in no casualties, but the fate of the International Space Station (ISS) is now in question.

Just two minutes after liftoff, the crew of the Soyuz MS-10 found themselves in a situation that every astronaut since the beginning of the manned space program has trained for, but very few have ever had to face: a failure during launch. Today the crew of two, Russian Aleksey Ovchinin and American Nick Hague, were forced to make a ballistic re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere; a wild ride that put them through higher G forces than expected and dropped the vehicle approximately 430 km from the launch site in Baikonur. Both men walked away from the event unharmed, but while the ordeal is over for them, it’s just beginning for the crew of the ISS.

Until a full investigation can be completed by Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, the Soyuz rocket is grounded. This is standard procedure, as they obviously don’t want to launch another rocket and risk encountering the same issue. But as the Soyuz is currently the only way we have to get humans into space, this means new crew can’t be sent to the ISS until Roscosmos is confident the issue has been identified and resolved.

Soyuz MS-11, which would have brought up three new crew members to relieve those already on the Station, was scheduled for liftoff on December 20th. While not yet officially confirmed, that mission is almost certainly not going to be launching as scheduled. Two months is simply not long enough to conduct an investigation into such a major event when human lives are on the line.

The failure of Soyuz MS-10 has started a domino effect which will deprive the ISS of the five crew members which were scheduled to be aboard by the end of 2018. To make matters worse, the three current crew members must return to Earth before the end of the year as well. NASA and Roscosmos will now need to make an unprecedented decision which could lead to abandoning the International Space Station; the first time it would be left unmanned since the Expedition 1 mission arrived in November 2000.

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Soyuz Rocket Emergency Landing, Everyone OK

NASA spokesperson [Brandi Dean] summarized it succinctly: “Confirming again that today’s Soyuz MS10 launch did go into ballistic re-entry mode … That means the crew will not be going to the ISS today. Instead they will be taking a sharp landing, coming back to earth”. While nobody likes last-minute changes in plans, we imagine that goes double for astronauts. On the other hand, it’s always good news when we are able to joke about a flight that starts off with a booster separation problem.

Astronauts [Nick Hague] and [Aleksey Ovchinin] were on their way this morning to the International Space Station, but only made it as far as the middle of Kazakhstan. Almost as soon as the problem occurred, the rocket was re-pathed and a rescue team was sent out to meet them. Just an hour and a half after launch, they were on-site and pulled the pair out of the capsule unharmed. Roscosmos has already commissioned a report to look into the event. In short, all of the contingency plans look like they went to plan. We’ll have to wait and see what went wrong.

Watching the video (embedded below) the only obvious sign that anyone got excited is the simultaneous interpreter stumbling a bit when she has to translate [Aleksey] saying “emergency… failure of the booster separation”. Indeed, he reported everything so calmly that the NASA commentator didn’t even catch on for a few seconds. If you want to know what it’s like to remain cool under pressure, have a listen.

Going to space today is still a risky business, but thankfully lacks the danger factor that it once had. For instance, a Soyuz rocket hasn’t had an issue like this since 1975. Apollo 12 was hit by lightning and temporarily lost its navigation computer, but only the truly close call on Apollo 13 was made into a Hollywood Blockbuster. Still, it’s worth pausing a minute or two to think of the people up there floating around. Or maybe even sneak out and catch a glimpse when the ISS flies overhead.

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Hackaday Links: September 9, 2018

Octoprint is one of those must-have apps for 3D printers. All you need is a Raspberry Pi, an SD card, and a USB cable, and you can control your 3D printer from anywhere in the house. Of course, some people take it too far and open up their Octoprint to the greater Internet. Gizmodo reports thousands of people are doing so, with possible dire consequences. Choice quotes: “Imagine waking up in the morning to find that your 3D printer was used to produce a gun” and “Once again, 3D guns come to mind”. Yes, they referenced 3D printed guns twice in a story. Call me when you can 3D print bullets. Or when bioprinters can print airborne HIV, which was also suggested in the story.

ARS Electronica is going on in Linz this weekend, and it’s the largest new media art festival where cyber artists are recognized for their innovations. One of the more interesting exhibits is [Sarah Petkus]’ Noodlefeet. Its [Sarah]’s kid, that’s a robot, that’s made out of pool noodles. She’s talked about it at the Hackaday Superconference, and now there’s an entire exhibit behind it. You can check out her ‘making of’ post right here.

A mirror is a useful survival tool, if only for signalling people. Here’s a video showing long-distance mirror signalling, over a distance of 27.5 miles. The mirror used was 330 x 254mm, but the real challenge here is pointing the mirror in the right direction. For that, [Andy] used a bamboo pole a few meters in front of the mirror. By reflecting sunlight onto the pole, he knew it was going in about the right direction. Accuracy versus precision, or something like that.

Last week, a slow leak was detected aboard the International Space Station. The leak was quickly traced to a 2mm hole in the upper orbital module of a visiting Soyuz spacecraft. prompting call of micrometeoroid damage and plenty of speculation on what would have happened if this hole appeared anywhere else on the station. Now, it looks like this hole was put there by a drill, probably during assembly or testing, and was somehow plugged until the Soyuz was in space for a few weeks. Why this hole just magically appeared one night is anyone’s guess, but there you go.