Recent Russian Rocket Failure Points Toward Human Error


Moscow, you have a problem….


Last week, a Russian Proton-M made for an exciting show. Carrying three GLONASS satellites (The Russian version of American GDP sats), the Proton-M suffered an anomaly at launch, before wildly departing from normal flight. In 2010, a Proton-M, carrying the exact same cargo, similarly crashed. While this is a setback for the Russian commercial space program, it is also a massive setback for the GLONASS system as well.


Initial findings of the ongoing accident investigation have found the likely culprit of this latest launch system failure. Sifting through wreckage, accident investigators discovered  the improper installation of angular velocity sensors. Apparently, these were installed upside down. Per the latest report on the accident, electrical tests before launch failed to detect this improper installation, and no visual inspection was conducted. These sensors, installed upside down, fed incorrect information to the flight control system. As the flight control system tried to correct, due to incorrect information, the Proton-M swung wildly out of control.


The improperly installed angular velocity sensors were apparently installed by an inexperienced technician. If inexperienced technicians are being trusted with vital tasks such as these, what does this tell us about the state of Russian industry, to include the Russian defense industry? As this latest set of three destroyed GLONASS units were uninsured, I feel its a safe bet that the inexperienced technician’s job security is bleak.


While the improperly installed angular velocity sensors explains much, it doesn’t explain everything. A contributing factor to this incident could possibly be premature launch. Apparently, half a second before scheduled launch, the Proton-M lifted off. As a result, the first stage was not at full thrust. This premature launch with less than full thrust hampered the rockets ability to maintain stable flight, leading to the wobble seen in the video above.


Combined with temperatures indicative of a fire in one of the six first-stage engines, these two additional factors may have contributed to the loss of this latest Proton-M. Its possible that a flight control system attempt to compensate for this reduced power launch with a sudden increase to full power could have caused the fire suggested by telemetry.


A cursory examination of the programs history shows that this latest happening is the fifth Proton-M failure since 2010. The Proton-M program has also been the focus of numerous corruption allegations, with the rockets designer fired for fraud. This is not only an issue for Russia, but also the US, and other partners of the International Space Station. Proton-M is the launch platform for supply delivery to the ISS.


Casting aside the possible defense ramifications of Russia’s ongoing problem, we should pay close attention to the ripple effect this could have on the US space program. This is not only a notice being served on NASA of the importance of commercial resupply flights to ISS, but also of our need to increase NASA’s budget. In Russia, one inexperienced technician caused the latest catastrophe. In the US, the 435 members of Congress are doing the very same thing, through different methods.

~ by arcturus415 on July 13, 2013.

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