The failed launch of the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft on board adds a new chapter to a long-standing story of accidents and failures threatening the Russian space industry, according to experts in space security.
The incident that took place yesterday (October 11) was the first demolished launch of a manned Soyuz capsule in more than three decades. However, it points to serious underlying problems that undermine confidence in space travel, Tommaso Sgobba, the president of the International Association for the Promotion of Space Security, told Space.com.
In March of this year, the Parabolic Arc website calculated that Russian launchers had failed 60 times in the last 30 years – that average to two failures per year. [In Photos: Space Station Crew’s Harrowing Abort Landing After Soyuz Launch Failure]
Among the most prominent facts of the past decade are three losses of the robotic Progress M vehicle that delivers to the International Space Station, two satellites for the Galileo satellite navigation constellation of Europe placed in the wrong direction and the debacle of Phobos Grunt – an ambitious Mars sample-return mission that crashed in the Pacific two months after its launch.
All three losses of the freight vehicle Progress M, which took place in 2011, 2015 and 2016, were later reduced to problems with the third phase of the Soyuz rocket. The two Galileo's were stranded in a useless job after a partial failure of Fregat's upper flight, often used with Russia's Soyuz and Zenit missiles. A defective Frigate was also behind Phobos Grunt's failure to leave the earth's orbit.
According to Michal Vaclavik of the Czech space agency, a former Soviet satellite country that is now a member of the European Space Agency, the Soyuz FG rocket, which is used for manned flights, is a more advanced version of the Soyuz rocket. often used for launching satellites. The FG was the rocket that was used at the failed launch yesterday (October 11).
Since its first flight in 2001, the rocket has performed 55 successful launches and, in combination with the Soyuz capsule, has been the only means to transport astronauts to the international space station since NASA's spacecraft retired in 2011.
"More attention was paid to the reliability during the manufacture of hardware for manned flights," Vaclavik told Space.com. "There are more inspections during the assembly, more tests."
Sgobba agrees: "If we compare the reliability of the Soyuz-manned version with the unmanned version of Soyuz, which naturally shares a number of common parts, we see that the level of disruption has been much higher for the unmanned version. "
Sgobba even said that the Russians have not lost cosmonauts since 1971. In comparison, failing NASA space shuttle programs in 1986 and 2003 killed 14 astronauts on board the Challenger and Columbia jobs.
There were, however, several close calls for the Russians, Sgobba said, including a launch in 1983 dismantled on a launch pad and a failure in 2008 of a resuming Soyuz capsule to separate in time from its service module. As a result, the capsule hit the atmosphere at the wrong angle and the crew had to endure a much more bumpy return to Earth than usual.
"If we look at the record of the past for almost 40 years, we can consider this as a fairly reliable system," Sgobba said.
He added that he was personally more worried about the hole found in the previous Soyuz capsule – MS-09 – which docked at the International Space Station this summer. Soil controllers discovered a drop in air pressure in the capsule on 30 August. Originally, civil servants thought the shell of the capsule had been pierced by a piece of space debris or a micrometeorite. However, a study showed that the hole was probably made by humans and made somewhere during production.
"It is unclear what happened, but apparently they did not find it during inspections and tests on the ground," Sgobba said.
This incident, he said, points to a major problem – the lack of proper quality assurance procedures in Russian space production facilities.
"The Russians do not seem to have made the transition to modern quality control methods," Sgobba said. "They do not seem to have the correct written procedures to prevent mistakes." The old, experienced generation of engineers is retired and there seems to be no systematic training of the young and procedures that they can follow. "
Sgobba said that emerging commercial space companies should draw lessons from the Russian history of failures and safety management and make quality control an inherent part of their manufacturing practices.
"Sometimes bureaucratic measures are needed to achieve a good quality and safety policy within the company and to prevent accidents and failures," he said.
follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. Original article on Space.com.