Spaceflight Insider

Progress MS-04 failure investigation prompts 3rd stage engine swaps

Launch of Expedition 40 crew on Soyuz rocket. NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

A Soyuz rocket launches out of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Photo Credit: NASA

A Russian task force has determined the Dec. 1, 2016, Progress MS-04 failure was due to a fire in the oxidizer pump in the Soyuz carrier rocket’s third stage engine, the RD-0110. This caused the pump to fail and break apart. As a result, the third stage engines on the next two Soyuz rockets are being replaced.

According to Tass, the next two Soyuz launch vehicles, the Soyuz-U and Soyuz-FG with Progress MS-05 and Soyuz MS-04, respectively, will be replaced with those from a different manufacturing lot. It’s believed the issues that caused the engine to fail during the Progress MS-04 launch will be confined to the same manufacturing lot as the engine that failed.

Soyuz-U / Progress MS-04 in position on the launch pad

The ill-fated Soyuz-U with Progress MS-04 awaits liftoff on Dec. 1, 2016. Photo Credit: RKK Energia

The Progress MS-04 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) failed when a problem occurred during the third stage burn resulting in loss of the vehicle 22 seconds before the third stage burn should have completed. Debris from the vehicle that did not burn up in the atmosphere fell to Earth in Siberia.

The engine failure and subsequent breakup resulted in debris which punctured the oxygen tank, with the explosion causing the cargo ship to separate from the 3rd stage over 2 minutes earlier than scheduled.

The exact cause of the pump fire has not been determined. However, a Roscosmos investigation has concluded there was either foreign debris which contaminated the pump cavity or procedures for assembly of the engine were not followed correctly – wrong clearance between parts or impeller rotor imbalance and a possible run-out – causing the oxidizer pump to fail.

The Station remains well stocked, and another cargo ship, Japan’s Kounotori 6, has since visited the station. However, over the last number of years, there have been multiple supply mission failures.

Another Progress supply mission failed 20 months earlier when the Progress M-27M vehicle did not separate from the carrier rocket’s third stage properly, causing it to spin out of control and eventually burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere a few weeks later. Additionally, in June 2015, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket failed mid-launch causing the destruction of the CRS-7 Dragon capsule.

Before that, in October 2014, Orbital ATK’s Antares exploded seconds after liftoff, destroying the Orb-3 Cygnus spacecraft it was carrying. Finally, in August 2011, just a month after the final Space Shuttle mission, Progress M-12M was lost after the third stage of its carrier rocket failed to reach orbit. This brings the total number of failures to five in just over five years.

The Progress MS-05 supply mission is now targeted for no earlier than Feb. 21, while the Soyuz MS-04 crew rotation flight is currently scheduled for March 27 and will be carrying NASA astronaut Jack “2fish” Fischer and cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin to the station for a six-month stay.

Not related to the Progress MS-04 failure, but still pertinent to Roscosmos’ launch schedule is the replacement of the next Soyuz crew capsule. The Soyuz capsule Fischer and Yurchikhin were supposed to launch in is being changed due to the replacement vehicle being built under a contract with NASA while the original one was not.

According to a Jan. 16 Tass report, the Roscosmos press service stated: “The crew of the ISS 51/52 space expedition, Fyodor Yurchikhin and Jack Fischer, will go to the ISS by spacecraft N. 735, and not N. 734. The replacement is not related with any technical issues.”

Assembly of the Soyuz-FG rocket and Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft (1600px image).

An archive photo of a Soyuz spacecraft inside the payload fairing attached to the third stage of a Soyuz carrier rocket. The engines of the next two third stages will be replaced. Photo Credit: Alexander Vysotsky / NASA



Lloyd Campbell’s first interest in space began when he was a very young boy in the 1960s with NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs. That passion continued in the early 1970s with our continued exploration of our Moon, and was renewed by the Shuttle Program. Having attended the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on its final two missions, STS-131, and STS-133, he began to do more social networking on space and that developed into writing more in-depth articles. Since then he’s attended the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, the agency’s new crew-rated Orion spacecraft on Exploration Flight Test 1, and multiple other uncrewed launches. In addition to writing, Lloyd has also been doing more photography of launches and aviation. He enjoys all aspects of space exploration, both human, and robotic, but his primary passions lie with human exploration and the vehicles, rockets, and other technologies that allow humanity to explore space.

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