Delivery on time or your astronauts back.
June 29, 2015 5:48 AM   Subscribe

The launch of Progress M-28M, now set for July 3rd, 2015, 0055 EDT has become critical to the sustained manning of the ISS.

A series of accidents has left the ISS low on supplies. On October 24th, 2014, the Cygnus CRS Orb-3 flight, with the Deke Slayton spacecraft, exploded seconds after launch when a main engine turbo pump failed.

On April 28th of this year, the third stage of the Soyuz booster recontacted the Progress M-27M resupply flight, damaging the ship and leaving it spinning out of control. It would reenter the atmosphere eight days ago.

And yesterday, June 28th, the SpaceX CRS-7 resupply flight failed just before staging when the second stage abruptly lost structural rigidity, apparently from a LOX tank failure, causing the destruction of the booster a little more than two minutes after the launch. The exact cause will take some time to determine.

NASA and SpaceX warns that some of the debris may be hazardous, particularly if it contains RCS propellant and asks that if you find any, that you not touch it and contact NASA directly at +1-321-494-7001 so that it may be retrieved safely.

The loss of Progress M-27M caused the delay of the Expedition 45 crew launch until November. If Progress M-28M were to fail, it is possible that the ISS crew would need to be reduced to 3 with current supplies.
posted by eriko (65 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thanks for this, I was wondering about the supply situation. Weird that there were three separate accidents with three different rockets. Talk about space flight being hard!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:00 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is exactly why NASA needs to up their teletransportation game.
posted by item at 6:06 AM on June 29, 2015




According to the local news (here in Orlando), the ISS had enough supplies to last until this fall, and supposedly there is an additional Japanese launch after the upcoming Progress launch.
posted by Badgermann at 6:22 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


don't worry, I got this
posted by cortex at 6:39 AM on June 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


According to the local news (here in Orlando), the ISS had enough supplies to last until this fall, and supposedly there is an additional Japanese launch after the upcoming Progress launch.

Yeah, that's the Kounotori 5, which is Japans's cargo ship to the ISS. I had always thought that having so many different cargo ships was super redundant (THere's progress, Japan, there was and ESA one, plus Space X and Orbital now), but now it seems like smart planning. There's probably all sorts of meeting occurring now, wondering WTF the fuck about three separate ships having problems.

Man, we're not living on Moon or Mars anytime soon.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:48 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was watching this live and startled my wife with an "aww, crap!" as it came apart.

Hopefully it's a tank issue in the second stage they can pinpoint and address. It doesn't appear to be an engine issue, which given it's complexity would be harder to fix. However, the last tweet from Musk indicated no obvious causes have been found yet. I also hope it's not a process flaw they knew about but patched over. I doubt, they've not been shy about delaying a launch or aborting a countdown if something seemed off. They seem to be careful of 'go-fever'.

I still haven't heard if they've announced that range safety destroyed the rocket when they saw it coming apart.

Disappointing, but not the end. And if it had been a crewed flight they believe the abort engines would have pulled the capsule away safely.
posted by beowulf573 at 6:56 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was just writing a sarcastic "But thank god we're privatizing space flight, right?" comment. But instead I'll ask - are other countries' spacecraft (e.g., Kounotori) good enough (reliable, tested, etc) that the US's Shuttle really wasn't needed to keep the ISS going? Or is the world currently scrambling to keep ISS running and kind of wishing the US hadn't retired the Shuttle?
posted by Tehhund at 7:01 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


This post includes links to news reports of each incident, but am I missing links to analysis that confirm that the station is short on supplies? I can't find anything at the NASA website to confirm the delay of launch for Expedition 45, or to the possible reduction in crew. Can you link to where you're getting your information, please?
posted by not that girl at 7:11 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Man, we're not living on Moon or Mars anytime soon.

We could if we were robots though.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:11 AM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Wow, given that last tweet I'm almost thinking it was a simple manufacturing defect in the tank, rather than some valve sticking in a position it shouldn't. In some ways that would be worse than a broken (small) part.
posted by wierdo at 7:12 AM on June 29, 2015


I only had a chance to watch the launch video after the fact, but the closeups of the business end of the rocket during the first couple of minutes pretty clearly show something going wrong "non-nominal". You can see flames outside of the engine bells and then the exhaust cone spreading out as it must have been igniting the leaking propellant. Interesting though that it disintegrated in a big puff of vapor instead of exploding.

I was just writing a sarcastic "But thank god we're privatizing space flight, right?"

Yeah, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I think it's an important part of our development of spaceflight technology. However, I feel like SpaceX in particular has this philosophy of trying to push product and do the validation work "in the field" which is really not great for a system that requires near-100% reliability. Space is hard, yeah, but there are a lot of really disappointed scientists now that just lost years of work.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:15 AM on June 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Man, we're not living on Moon or Mars anytime soon.

We could if we were robots though.


If we were robots we wouldn't need to.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:16 AM on June 29, 2015


I would guess, and I'm by no means an expert, that a stuck valve would show up on the telemetry. There used to be a camera in the second stage but it was removed recently. I would imagine they are reviewing any process/material changes in the second stage O2 tank and attempting to reproduce it on the ground.
posted by beowulf573 at 7:16 AM on June 29, 2015


I was just writing a sarcastic "But thank god we're privatizing space flight, right?" comment.
Tehhund

On the one hand, government space programs also suffered their share of disasters on the road to success. On the other, I'm afraid backseatpilot has it right and maybe the "startup" approach isn't really a good fit for developing space vehicles...
posted by Sangermaine at 7:20 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I only had a chance to watch the launch video after the fact, but the closeups of the business end of the rocket during the first couple of minutes pretty clearly show something going wrong "non-nominal".

Yeah, I flashed back to the Challenger explosion on seeing those flames somewhere I think they aren't supposed to be. Can anyone knowledgeable comment on that? 'Cause it looked all sorts of wrong, but what do I know?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:20 AM on June 29, 2015


I don't think 1 loss of vehicle in 12 launches in any way indicts SpaceX's design/engineering philosophy. If it keeps happening, sure. But barring any really dirty laundry coming to light in the investigation into this failure and assuming they make more than 11 successful launches before the next serious failure, they'll be doing fairly well as these things go.

Hell, they already are doing well as far as these things usually go. They had one lose an engine but still complete the primary mission and now one loss of vehicle. Not bad for such a new launcher.
posted by wierdo at 7:20 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


The first stage worked as expected, in fact it started to push through the second stage and keep going after the failure. The plume from the first stage expands as it reaches higher in the atmosphere, this is normal.

Whatever when wrong was on the second stage just as it was about to take over.
posted by beowulf573 at 7:20 AM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


don't worry, I got this

I didn't realize space had so much...floor tile...and drywall.
posted by eriko at 7:24 AM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I should clarify that I agree that getting private companies into space flight is a good idea. I just meant: considering how hard it was for governments to get their vessels right, we should reasonably have expected it to take a long time for private companies to get it right and possibly kept the Shuttle around longer. Is the rest of the world really so flush with things that can reach the ISS that we didn't need the Shuttle?
posted by Tehhund at 7:27 AM on June 29, 2015


There's probably all sorts of meeting occurring now, wondering WTF the fuck about three separate ships having problems.

Three very different problems. One failed basically because engine go boom right away. One failed because the last booster stage separtion went badly, knocked into the payload, and either sent it into an uncontrollable spin or damaged its engine so when it tried to boost into an intersecting orbit, it lost attitude control.

The third, it appears that something goes wrong on the second stage while the first is still firing. You see what is probably LOX bloom out before it all goes to pieces from aerodynamic stress -- rockets are only strong in one direction, after all, once you depart from controlled flight while you're still in the atmosphere, you rapidly rip apart. They can't afford the mass to be strong enough in all directions.

What caused this? Lots of things could. Overpressure in the LOX tank and it bursting is the obvious first choice, but just because we apparently saw the LOX come out doesn't mean that was the cause. Any number of second stage structure failures would cause the LOX tank to fail as well, so the LOX tank failure could well be a symptom, not the root cause.

But we really need Progress M-28M to make it if Expedition 45 is going to make it on orbit on time -- and even then, it may be doubtful. They have supplies until the fall, but they're short two consecutive resupply flights now.
posted by eriko at 7:31 AM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


If we were robots we wouldn't need to.

Well yeah maybe if we were super boring robots. Why don't you want robots to fulfill their space dreams? why do you hate robotic fun
posted by poffin boffin at 7:32 AM on June 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Here's what I was referring to - you can see flames starting to lick up the side of the rocket, which is not the way flames should go.

Also, NASA launch announcers are the kings of understatement. "Non-nominal" launch, indeed.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:36 AM on June 29, 2015


we should reasonably have expected it to take a long time for private companies to get it right and possibly kept the Shuttle around longer.

Shuttle missions were ended because the vehicle was considered unsafe to fly.
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:43 AM on June 29, 2015


Here's the (successfull) CRS-6 launch for comparison.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:45 AM on June 29, 2015


not that girl: "I missing links to analysis that confirm that the station is short on supplies"

Here's an article on Vox that references an a NASA report on consumable status from April, including this image. Note that "KTO" hits zero on Aug 1—that's the remaining space for solid waste. If something goes wrong with the Soyuz launch next week, we'll be in serious doodoo.
posted by vasi at 7:46 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is the rest of the world really so flush with things that can reach the ISS that we didn't need the Shuttle?

Well, the Shuttle had 2 catastrophic failures out of 130 missions. For comparison, Lockheed/Boeing's Atlas V has had 1 anomaly out of 54 launches, and their Delta IV has had 1 out of 29 (neither catastrophic, and I'll also respectfully ignore the fact that STS-107 would have delivered its payload).

It sucks that some science was lost -- like the Meteor experiment which had already blown up on a previous flight -- but $60 million for a SpaceX launch is 10 times cheaper than Shuttle, three times cheaper than Atlas, and sufficient for sending freeze-dried ice cream to cosmonauts (and hopefully more uses in the future).

I will tell you there's a lot of schadenfreude in Brevard county among defense contractors and ex-Shuttle employees, though.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:52 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wow, given that last tweet I'm almost thinking it was a simple manufacturing defect in the tank, rather than some valve sticking in a position it shouldn't. In some ways that would be worse than a broken (small) part.

Again, the tank failure is just as likely a symptom as the cause. Any number of failures in the structure could result in the tank failing on the way to the departure from controlled flight and breakup.

Yeah, the tank failing is the simplest failure. But, say, a payload adapter failure causing the payload to collapse into the tank, an engine mount failure ripping the bottom off the tank, simple collapse of the structure causing the whole stage to accordion, the tank mounts failing, the fuel tank mounts failing and the fuel tank hitting the oxidizer tank and breaking it, and that's just scratching the surface. Alll of those would cause basically the same visible failure sequence -- LOX bloom, fireball, shattered rocket drifting down.

All we know -- we saw a bloom of what was almost certainly LOX from the second stage while the first stage appeared to be firing normally (and no word from SpaceX or NASA to contradict that,) then a fireball, then the spacecraft breaking up from aerodynamic stress, as they do when they go sideways at that velocity in the atmosphere, then the debris cloud drifting down. No word on if Range Safety felt the need to send a destruct order, I suspect not, that bird pretty much went sideways and shredded instantly after the fireball.

Just went through the video. The first sign of the LOX bloom was at T+ 2:19, velocity was 4687km/hr, Altitude 44.6km, this was 34 second after Max-Q, so we were still seeing significant, but not maximum, aerodynamic stress on the vehicle. At T+2:22 you see a flash, at T+2:26, a second, larger bloom occurs, this presumably is the first stage collapsing, it still had about 30 second left to burn at this point. At T+2:29 that bloom clears and you see the debris falling.

So, from first sign of anomaly to debris cloud in ten seconds. That's why rockets are hard to make -- the forces are enormous, and when it doesn't work, things go very wrong very fast.

And now SpaceX, NASA and the FAA get to pick up all the bits and try to figure out exactly what went wrong, determine why that happened, and then see what they need to change to make sure that this doesn't happen again. It may be as simple as "Make sure we inspect that part correctly this time, because if we had made it to spec, this wouldn't have happened." It may be "we need to redesign the entire second stage because it cannot reliably handle the thrust the upgraded first stage has" though that better not be the case if they're planning on using that stage on the vastly more powerful Falcon Heavy.
posted by eriko at 7:52 AM on June 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


Is the rest of the world really so flush with things that can reach the ISS that we didn't need the Shuttle?

Well, the shuttle was expensive and inefficient for most of it's life, and operated well past its intended lifetime. Plus the completion of the ISS construction pretty much ended the pressing need for it. There was a much stronger argument for developing a manned flight system replacement than extending the shuttle life, but that would've required spending money on spaceflight at a time of budget paralysis. Basically, American manned spaceflight was sacrificed on the alter of spending cuts for the sake of spending cuts, and supply missions pawned off onto private ventures like Space X. The SLS program isn't even scheduled to fly until 2019-2020, and is already well behind schedule and underfunded. Personally I have doubts whether NASA will ever return to manned flight, the political will is not there anymore.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:53 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Good info all, thanks!
posted by Tehhund at 7:57 AM on June 29, 2015


Well, the Shuttle had 2 catastrophic failures out of 130 missions.

Neither of which should have happened, both of which had warnings of and simple redesigns could have fixed the problems before we lost the shuttles.

Doubly so Challenger, which was launched out of tolerance, but we knew the rings were seeing partial burn throughs. Once they redesigned the joints, we didn't see them at all again. If we'd done that redesign after the first time we saw a partial burn through -- STS-2 -- then STS-51L never happens.

The thing that hurts about STS-51L and STS-103 is that they were as much Management and Process failures as anything else. Yes, there was a part failure mode on the stack, but we had warning about it. The management and process ignored repeated warnings about it until the failure mode finally happened.

The SLS program isn't even scheduled to fly until 2019-2020, and is already well behind schedule and underfunded.

s/and/because it is/

But basically, let me just say "What he wrote" and leave it at that.

To give you an idea how good SLS could be? One of the mission profiles is a 20 tons to Europa.

Direct. No grav-boosts, no nothing. Take off from Kennedy, brake into Europa orbit with a 20 ton payload. (I know a guy at Marshall. He showed me that mission.)
posted by eriko at 7:59 AM on June 29, 2015 [18 favorites]


On the one hand, government space programs also suffered their share of disasters on the road to success.

So I am (see picture above) in Huntsville, AL this summer, and yesterday made a trip to the Davidson Space Center and so I'm in that incredibly precarious 8-year-old-who-read-a-book-and-so-knows-everything place right now.

*pushes glasses nose*

DID YOU KNOW that when NASA was trying to get the F-1 engines for the Saturn V to stop constantly exploding from combustion instability, they couldn't figure out what was happening because fluid dynamics are hard and so they

*takes long pull on slurpee*

decided to just start literally attaching small bombs to the engines and blowing them up mid-test so they could make the engines try to explode more so they could figure out how to make them not explode

*wipes hands on pants*

THEY LITERALLY PUT BOMBS ON THEIR ENGINE IT'S CRAZY THAT'S WHAT THEY ACTUALLY DID
posted by cortex at 8:02 AM on June 29, 2015 [25 favorites]


Or, my friend at Marshall put it, STS is a bunch of really good parts that we've massively improved over 30 years put together in a really bad way.

Constellation was things that looked like STS parts, but weren't actually STS parts, put together in odd, but at least somewhat smarter ways.

SLS/Direct is actual STS parts put together in a much smarter way, and he really hopes they get to fly it, because it will work.

He just really wishes they didn't have to build it in that many congressional districts. That's one of the biggest problems NASA has to face.
posted by eriko at 8:05 AM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the tank failing is the simplest failure. But, say, a payload adapter failure causing the payload to collapse into the tank, an engine mount failure ripping the bottom off the tank, simple collapse of the structure causing the whole stage to accordion, the tank mounts failing, the fuel tank mounts failing and the fuel tank hitting the oxidizer tank and breaking it, and that's just scratching the surface. Alll of those would cause basically the same visible failure sequence -- LOX bloom, fireball, shattered rocket drifting down.


Funny (not in the ha ha way) I remember reading about problems in early spaceflight and they sounded just like this. Spaceflight is really fucking hard because a minor failure can really mess up your day. Every thing has to work at the right time, in the right way for right length of time.

To give you an idea how good SLS could be? One of the mission profiles is a 20 tons to Europa.

Direct. No grav-boosts, no nothing. Take off from Kennedy, brake into Europa orbit with a 20 ton payload. (I know a guy at Marshall. He showed me that mission.)


I think it cuts the travel time from eight to three years or something similar. Could be crazy awesome.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:06 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


THEY LITERALLY PUT BOMBS ON THEIR ENGINE IT'S CRAZY THAT'S WHAT THEY ACTUALLY DID

*Takes sip of coffee*

Yep.

*Rocks back in rocking chair*

And eventually, they made that engine so stable, that when they set off those bombs while it was running, it would self damp the oscillations in 1/10th of a second and keep running.

*looks over glasses*

Yep. Bombproof engine, that F-1. You kids wish you had engineers like that these days. Now go get me some more coffee, and I'll tell you about the time John Young swore his way back from orbit on STS-1.
posted by eriko at 8:07 AM on June 29, 2015 [15 favorites]


*sits quietly with a bottle of brandy in view for Grandpa Eriko*
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:16 AM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think it cuts the travel time from eight to three years or something similar.

SLS could have put New Horizons at Pluto four years earlier -- but the question becomes "would the probe have survived the launch?" The acceleration would have been unreal if they went full out. They would have had to throttle the heck out of the second stage, or just use it to put up a really strange third stage with a tiny engine and huge fuel tank for a really long burn. You know, something very KSP like.

More importantly, on the same flight path with the multiple grav assists, SLS could have put something like 11 extra tons there. Which means SLS could have put New Horizons+ in Pluto orbit!

That wouldn't have happened, to be honest. The SLS will *never* be a cheap booster, nothing that big will be. It'll be 70 tons in the cheap configuration, 120+ with the middle stage, and it could be as much as 220 tons to LEO with the EDS. And, frankly, the real question is "Do we need a booster that big?"

For manned exploration? Probably. For anything else?

Really, the only thing that puts 20T to LEO or 15T to GSO is your favorite three letter spy agency, unless it's going to the ISS, and anymore, we don't put anything like 20T to the ISS. All these resupply missions are barley pushing 2T of payload.

But, man, I'd love to see it fly. I saw the Saturn INT-21 fly on TV, the Skylab launch. I've seen a few STS launches in person. I'd love to see another BIG launch before I go.
posted by eriko at 8:17 AM on June 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


However, the last tweet from Musk indicated no obvious causes have been found yet.

Worth quoting inline:
@elonmusk: Cause still unknown after several thousand engineering-hours of review. Now parsing data with a hex editor to recover final milliseconds.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:17 AM on June 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


They should save their game before launch, so they can restore if it doesn't go well.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 9:08 AM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


New post at NASA says the crew has plenty of supplies through October, and doesn't indicate any planned delay for the Expedition 45 launch scheduled for the end of July.
posted by not that girl at 9:38 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well done, @elonmusk. "hex editor" sounds like a scary technical thing to non-nerds, while appeasing actual nerds because they actually know what one is.

Like when Trinity fired up nmap in the second Matrix movie.
posted by 7segment at 9:43 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am quite tempted to quote the scene from The Martian where the launch failure happens in this thread.
posted by caphector at 9:45 AM on June 29, 2015


"hex editor" sounds like a scary technical thing to non-nerds, while appeasing actual nerds because they actually know what one is.

I also like that it sounds like an admission that rocket flight is achieved through witchcraft.
posted by contraption at 10:44 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


+++out of cheese error redo from start
posted by poffin boffin at 10:45 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying it's a conspiracy, but it certainly sounds like an alien species has somehow managed to put a lock on our rocket science before their invasion.
posted by qcubed at 10:47 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


And, frankly, the real question is "Do we need a booster that big?"

Yes? Yes.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 11:25 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I mean Yes.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 11:25 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


More boosters is always the answer.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:40 AM on June 29, 2015


Or to paraphrase a saying: If it's moving and it shouldn't, more struts. If it's not moving and it should, more boosters.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:41 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


And, frankly, the real question is "Do we need a booster that big?"

Of course not. We need a bigger one.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:58 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


New post at NASA says the crew has plenty of supplies through October, and doesn't indicate any planned delay for the Expedition 45 launch scheduled for the end of July.

That's assuming Progress M28-M makes it up on 3 July. If it should fail as well (odd are really really low, true) then Expedition 45 will either not fly, or the three members of Expedition 44 that would have transferred to 45 will instead depart (lowering Expedition 45 to a 3 person crew, rather than 6) to help stretch the supplies out, because losing three supply missions in a row would be a very, very big deal indeed.

If it did fail, you can also hope for a rush launch of something, but the question is what? With two failures in the row, you're not going to see a Progress mission, because you'd expect Roscosmos to do a very deep failure analysis to find out what's breaking the formerly reliable Progress. SpaceX probably won't launch for at least six months, possibly as long as a year, it all depends on how long it takes them to find out what happened and what they need to do to prevent it happening again, and the Antares can't bring very much, plus they're also deep into a failure analysis to make sure they don't lose the next booster.

If they're compatible, a Dragon-on-Atlas or Dragon-on-Delta might be a fast, but not cheap, solution to get supplies up -- but we'd need to build the adapter, and that's not a job you can do fast. Get it wrong, and you lose the booster. The Japanese launch might help some, but it is new and in demonstration mode, so it won't be carrying much the first launch. Nothing's been prototyped on the Ariane 5, which is a shame, the Ariane 5 is an excellent booster, but without something to actually get the payload to the ISS, not helpful here, and it would take time to build a payload adapter.

We lose M-28M, and find out that SpaceX needs a major retool on the Falcon9 1.1 and doesn't have any 1.0 boosters available, we might be looking at a forced decrew in the fall. Again, the odds of this are *very* low, but they are a lot higher than they were two days ago.

Thus the posit of the post -- that M28-M has become particularly important given the loss of M-27M and CRS-7. Should M28-M make it, and the Progress supply runs have a pretty good track record, then things should be much smoother, and Expedition 45 will launch on time and have a full crew. The Progress supply runs are currently the primary supply path for the ISS, though the SpaceX CRS runs have been picking up more and more of the load, they are still very new and the first three of them were basically demonstration level. They did lose a docking component they needed with the loss of CRS-7, but NASA has another one ready to fly and will build a replacement.
posted by eriko at 12:09 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


And, frankly, the real question is "Do we need a booster that big?"

There is no such thing as enuff dakka.
posted by Gelatin at 2:03 PM on June 29, 2015


How long could ISS keep itself going without people on board to fix stuff as it goes wrong?
posted by moonmilk at 2:33 PM on June 29, 2015


My daughter was in the room at L.M. where they monitor the telemetry for Space X during the launch Sunday morning. They were watching the screens as the data flew by, then it just went dead. Zeroes everywhere all at once. They spent about 30 seconds trying to figure out how they'd lost the link before they realized it had blown up. No anomalies -- just vroom then silence.

She didn't see or hear anything outside, but she called me later Sunday AM pretty bummed out. Rocketry is hard.

She thinks it's gonna set Space X back a bit. Me, I wish to fuck NASA was still building its own heavy lift vehicles. The shuttle was outdated, but let's go, here. The Russians aren't exactly who we should be depending on for much of anything & the private industry is too nascent at this point. NASA has the institutional knowledge -- they just need a goddam budget.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:17 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


How long could ISS keep itself going without people on board to fix stuff as it goes wrong?

Supposedly there are contingency plans for the departure of the entire crew and that those plans were last dusted off in 2011, when Soyuz was temporarily grounded. How long the station would last without crew would depend on how much propellant was left at the time of the crew's departure, how long any critical components would last without failing, and how often Progress vehicles could visit the station. There wouldn't be a hard deadline, it would just be a matter of probabilities. Without a crew for a few weeks, it'd probably be fine, but without a crew for months or a year, the risks to the station start piling up until one day something goes wrong that doesn't have a workaround or a backup.

But even a short period without a crew would be incredibly disruptive to the continued operation of ISS. There would be an enormous amount of safekeeping work and as much work to put it back into normal operation again. A longer period without a crew could end the ISS Program outright, with or without major technical problems. Given how close ISS is to the end of its rated life, I think the motivation to recrew would evaporate in the course of a long absence.

But at this point, decrewing the station is very unlikely. They could probably go into August without a resupply before beginning to seriously consider the prospect.
posted by ddbeck at 5:01 PM on June 29, 2015


They spent about 30 seconds trying to figure out how they'd lost the link before they realized it had blown up

There's that infamous moment when we lost Columbia when Flight Director LeRoy Cain makes the call that tells everyone in Mission Control that they're no longer working an active mission -- that the shuttle is gone.

Flight: “GC, – Flight. GC – Flight.”
GC: “Flight – GC.”
Flight: “Lock the doors.”

Until that moment, they were working the mission as a loss of comm event. The reason he made that call?

Someone called one of the controllers and told him they had just seen live TV footage of the orbiter breaking up. That controller walked up to the Flight Director and told him. Flight called the contingency and at that moment, to NASA, the mission had ended, and it had ended LOCV, the way it's never supposed to end: Loss of Crew and Vehicle.

The reason for locking the doors to MCC-H? To preserve evidence. Nobody gets in, nobody gets out, until everything is saved. But until someone called them, they just assumed they'd lost comm -- they were switching frequencies and transmitters in the blind, trying to find one that worked. They, of course, never would.

So, the fact that SpaceX spent 30 seconds waiting for data to come back? Not surprising. Until you see the bits of metal drifting from the sky, you don't know, and radio dropouts happen all the time, and given that SpaceX mission control was even further away from the accident than MCC-H was from the Columbia accident, it's not surprising it took a bit to understand that they'd had a LOV.

But, thankfully, not a LOCV. Not this time. No crew aboard to lose. But you can bet, with less than 10 seconds between the first visible sign of a problem and nothing but shreds drifting down, that NASA is going to be looking VERY hard at the crew escape plans on this booster. Because if they needed more than 10 seconds to get clear? They would have died today -- and that's a long estimate. It's possible that the capsule was already shredding in much less time than that. You can be sure that NASA is going to be looking extremely closely at how long the Dragon stayed intact during this event -- because that's how long the EDS has to detect the situation, activate, and pull the capsule far enough away.

It's also possible that the data stream has something that tells them this failure was happening well before we saw it, and they just don't realize it yet. They clearly didn't notice it in real time -- they were calling a perfectly normal flight through and beyond Max-Q, but they may have something that tells them "Hey, we're losing the bird" and that's the sort of thing you can wire into an EDS and get the crew away from the booster before it becomes the world's most expensive confetti.

And, for a manned booster, that's important.
posted by eriko at 5:28 PM on June 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


But at this point, decrewing the station is very unlikely. They could probably go into August without a resupply before beginning to seriously consider the prospect.

Yes. It is far more likely that they'll decrease to three than decrew entirely if M-28M fails. That will stretch supplies considerably, probably until early next year, further assuming that Japan's HTV-5 flight is successful, though there might be a hurried remanifest to get critical supplies onboard.

If M-28M is successful -- and, again, that's the way to bet, the fact that we've had two failures in a row is really, really unusual -- then we'll be back to normal ops for the foreseeable future, other than the loss of the IDA adapter, which makes the Node-2 docking ports harder to use. We have another one and the parts to build a replacement, but we'll have to fly them up later.

After HTV-5 on August 16th, we had CRS-8 set for September 2nd, that's almost certainly not going to fly. Progress M-29M is on September 21, and Progress MS-01, flying an older Soyuz, on November 19, and Cygnus is flying their 4th resupply mission, Orb-4 on a Atlas V 401 while they work on the Antares booster issue. Finally this year, CRS-9 is scheduled for Dec 9th, SpaceX may be flying again by then if the problem turns out to be simple, but they'd be flying the delayed CRS-8 instead.
posted by eriko at 5:49 PM on June 29, 2015


Yes. It is far more likely that they'll decrease to three than decrew entirely if M-28M fails. That will stretch supplies considerably, probably until early next year

If the next Progress fails (agreed, really unlikely), I don't think supplies would be an issue because Soyuz TMA-17M (meant to bring the Expedition 44/45 crew) would definitely be grounded and there's only three people on the station as it is. Rather, I think TMA-16M's time on orbit would become the limiting factor. Whether HTV-5 delivers needed supplies or not, the current crew would only have until late October before they're at Soyuz's 210-day "best by" date. I imagine they could exceed that some—TMA-9 did in 2007—but not enough that supplies for a crew of three would matter.
posted by ddbeck at 6:15 PM on June 29, 2015


I think they'd launch Expedition 45 a bit late and depart 44 on time, just because of the lifetime limit on the Soyuz -- plus, they do bring some supplies up with the Soyuz. Currently, TMA-16M is set to depart 11-Sep-2015. I could see them pushing TMA-17M back to September to limit the time there's 6 on orbit if we're looking at a supply shortage.

But all of this, while certainly being planned as a contingency, is just that -- a contingency. We'll know after Friday when either Progress M-28M is attached to the ISS, or everyone is yelling WTF IS WRONG WITH OUR ROCKETS?
posted by eriko at 7:13 PM on June 29, 2015


Well done, @elonmusk. "hex editor" sounds like a scary technical thing to non-nerds, while appeasing actual nerds because they actually know what one is.

Hey remember that time SpaceX couldn't figure out how to decode corrupted video and NASA showed them how with, essentially, wizards-did-it?
posted by odinsdream at 8:03 PM on June 29, 2015


Because if they needed more than 10 seconds to get clear? They would have died today -- and that's a long estimate. It's possible that the capsule was already shredding in much less time than that. You can be sure that NASA is going to be looking extremely closely at how long the Dragon stayed intact during this event -- because that's how long the EDS has to detect the situation, activate, and pull the capsule far enough away.

We didn't talk a long time because I was in the boonies with sketchy reception, but by early afternoon, it was clear that NASA would be running the investigation & that it would be thorough. I'm really feeling sketchy about Space X running manned missions. I'd imagine NASA is too.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:13 AM on June 30, 2015


Whether HTV-5 delivers needed supplies or not, the current crew would only have until late October before they're at Soyuz's 210-day "best by" date.

What does that mean? ("best by"). Is it that some fuel or batteries or something gets degraded, or something else?
posted by amorphatist at 3:58 PM on June 30, 2015


Yeah, I think time limit for Soyuz is to avoid worries over the durability of propellant, seals, lubricants, batteries, and so on. Soyuz, as the emergency escape vehicle, needs to be reliable with minimal maintenance while docked. One way to guarantee that reliability is to simply not fly it very long (relatively speaking).
posted by ddbeck at 9:20 AM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]




Soooo...about that John Young story?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:02 AM on July 3, 2015


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