Navigation Equipment May Have Caused Soyuz Failure

Navigation Equipment May Have Caused Soyuz Failure

Russia’s official TASS news agency reported today that yesterday’s Meteor M2-1 launch failure may have been caused by faulty navigation equipment on the Soyuz rocket’s Fregat upper stage.  The failure doomed the weather satellite and 18 smaller satellites that also were aboard.

Soyuz 2.1b rocket with Meteor M2-1 and 18 other satellites just before launch from Vostochny Cosmodrome, November 28, 2017. Screengrab from TsENKI TV.

The three-stage Soyuz 2.1b rocket appeared to work well during yesterday’s launch at 12:41:46 am Eastern Standard Time from Russia’s Vostochny cosmodrome in Siberia.  The Fregat upper stage and all the satellites separated from the Soyuz rocket’s third stage.  Fregat was then supposed to fire a total of seven times — first to put Meteor M2-1 into its orbit, then five more firings for the other 18 satellites, and finally a burn to deorbit the stage.

TASS reported that navigation equipment installed on the upper stage to increase its accuracy in attaining desired orbits malfunctioned.  The equipment uses signals from Russia’s GLONASS navigation satellite system and the U.S. GPS according to TASS.  Consequently, “the upper stage was misoriented [and] entered the dense layers of the atmosphere and fell into the Atlantic Ocean.”  Basically it went down instead of up.

An official determination will be made by a commission that was established today to investigate the failure, but Anatoly Zak at reports that “almost unbelievably, the flight control system on Fregat did not have the correct settings for the mission originating from the new launch site in Vostochny. … As a result, when the Fregat began its first preprogrammed main engine firing, the vehicle was apparently still changing its attitude, which led to a maneuvering in a wrong direction.”

This was only the second launch from Vostochny.  The first was a year and a half ago.


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