Progress M-27M Failure Caused by "Design Peculiarity"

Progress M-27M Failure Caused by "Design Peculiarity"

Russia’s space agency Roscosmos today revealed the results of its investigation into the April 28, 2015 Progress M-27M cargo ship launch failure.  A “design peculiarity” related to frequency-dynamic characteristics between the Soyuz-2.1a rocket’s third stage and the Progress spacecraft was to blame, it said.

Russian experts have been trying to solve the puzzle of the launch failure for more than a month.  They know something happened at the time the rocket and spacecraft separated, but the cause was elusive.   Russia postponed the launch of a military satellite on a similar rocket, Soyuz-2.1b, and rearranged the schedule of crew and cargo launches to the International Space Station (ISS) as a result.

The robotic Progress M-27M spacecraft was loaded with three tons of supplies for the ISS when it blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 28.  It quickly became clear that something went awry, with the Soyuz-2.1a rocket’s third stage and Progress both in orbit, but not the correct one, and Progress in a spin. The spacecraft made an uncontrolled reentry over the Pacific Ocean on May 7 Eastern Daylight Time (May 8 Moscow Time).

Roscosmos said today that that “A design peculiarity in the joint use of the spaceship and the rocket related to frequency-dynamic characteristics of the linkage between the spaceship and the rocket’s third stage is the cause” of the failure.  The agency is developing a plan to ensure it does not occur again, but determined there are “no limitations” on use of the Soyuz-2.1a rocket with other payloads.

An adjusted schedule for flights to the ISS will be announced on June 9, Roscosmos said, but the soonest they will occur is July 3 for the next robotic Progress cargo flight (Progress M-28M, or Progress 60 in NASA parlance) and July 24 for the next crew launch, Soyuz TMA-17M.  Roscosmos and NASA announced in May that the schedule for ISS crew and cargo flights would be rescheduled because of the failure.  At the time, they said the Soyuz TMA-15M crew (NASA’s Terry Virts, ESA’s Samantha Cristoforetti, and Roscosmos’s Anton Shkaplerov) would return in early June instead of May 13.   Other reports said they would return on June 11, but NASA declined to confirm that date last week.  NASA Johnson Space Center public affairs officer Dan Huot said via email that NASA was still awaiting confirmation from Russia as to the date and time of undocking and landing.

Last week, Russian officials announced the reasons for the failure of a different rocket, Proton-M, that occurred two weeks after the Soyuz-2.1a/Progress M-27M anomaly.  In that case, a Mexican communications satellite was lost.  Experts determined that, too, was caused by a design defect dating back at least until 1988.

The Soyuz-2.1a and Proton-M failures are the latest in a string of Russian launch mishaps that have tarnished the once-solid reputation of Soviet/Russian rockets and caused several reorganizations of Russia’s aerospace sector, both government and industry, and the firing of several officials.  The current head of Roscosmos, Igor Komarov, is the fourth person to hold that position since Charlie Bolden became NASA Administrator in 2009.  Komarov was head of Russia’s United Rocket and Space Corpoeration (URCC, or ORKK using its Russian initials).

In January, Russia announced that Komarov would replace Oleg Ostapenko as head of Roscosmos, and URCC and Roscosmos would be combined under Komarov’s leadership as a state corporation.  Ostapenko had taken over Roscosmos in October 2013, replacing Vladimir Popovkin, who was in the job for just two years after succeeding Anatoly Perminov.  Each change in command followed one or more launch failures.  Officials in the space industry also were replaced amid charges of corruption. Roscosmos itself now has come under accusations of misusing funds.


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