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ISS Communications Space Transportation

Soyuz Capsule Return Marred By Mystery Communications Blackout 97

Posted by Soulskill
from the have-you-tried-turning-it-off-and-then-on-again dept.
astroengine writes "An unexplained communications loss left flight controllers unable to speak with three space station crew returning to Earth over Kazakhstan during the last 15 minutes of their descent Thursday night. The first indication that the capsule survived its fiery plunge through the atmosphere was a series of beeps signaling components of the Soyuz had been jettisoned as planned. Later, ground controllers picked up signals that the Soyuz's parachutes had deployed, but it wasn't until a Russian recovery aircraft established two-way radio communications with the crew that flight controllers knew all was well."
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Soyuz Capsule Return Marred By Mystery Communications Blackout

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    A communications blackout can mean only one thing: invasion.

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday September 16, 2011 @12:26PM (#37421562)
    Wait, you're telling me that plunging through super-heated plasma at mach 17 for several minutes can cause communication problems? HOLY CRAP! :\
    • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Friday September 16, 2011 @12:36PM (#37421678)

      On the other hand, if you're expecting to have communication and communication drops out, that means something is wrong. And something being wrong on a manned vehicle is what you might call "a bad thing".

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        Then they should not have used Windows Mobile and AT&T for their radio system... Takes forever to reacquire a signal after it blacks out for a short time....

      • So true.... I remember the shuttle melting over Texas.. Silence allows the mind to race without any frame of reference.
      • On the other hand, if you're expecting to have communication and communication drops out, that means something is wrong. And something being wrong on a manned vehicle is what you might call "a bad thing".

        I suppose on that basis that if the capsule contains women a few minutes of radio silence is okay? Blessed relief from the jibber jabberin'?

    • by Synerg1y (2169962)

      They established radio contact, so it sounds like the main communication system never came up. Still they wouldn't expect it if it wasn't meant to work. Soviet engineering prevails though :) Minor complicated system fails, major system stays in tact, thus the astronauts are ok.

    • That's the problem here. Had I been part of the ground crew, I would have certainly been worried.
    • Hmm.. Reminds me of the Apollo program except they expected the plasma issue. Maybe they thought another frequency would be immune to the issue.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communications_blackout [wikipedia.org]

      For Apollo missions, the communications blackout was approximately three minutes long.[3] For Apollo 16, for example, pre-advisory data (PAD) for re-entry listed the expected times for re-entry communications blackout to be from 0 minutes 16 seconds after entry interface to 3 minutes 33 seconds after entry interface (a total of 3 minutes 17 seconds).[4] For the Apollo 13 mission, the blackout was much longer than normal because the flight path of the spacecraft was unexpectedly at a much shallower angle than normal.[4] According to the mission log maintained by Gene Kranz, the Apollo 13 re-entry blackout lasted around 6 minutes, beginning at 142:39 and ending at 142:45, and was 1 minute 27 seconds longer than had been predicted.[5]

      • by nedlohs (1335013)

        Because this is the first time they've ever done this, right?

        It's not like every other Soyuz Capsule has managed to not have this happen or anything.

        And it's not like communication should reestablish after you are through the plasma.

      • by Talderas (1212466)

        Exactly. It's not so much that a blackout occurred, it's the length that is the troubling part. 15 minutes when the longest length for Apollo was 6 minutes (under highly unusual circumstances) and the norm was 3 minutes.

        • This could have been caused by nothing more than a slight craft orientation issue when beginning reentry. Without proper alignment, an alteration of the course could have created an alignment problem with a communications satellite. Without proper orientation on reentry, a dirversion off course would result in a longer blackout.

          From the same Wikipedia article;

          Until the creation of the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System, the Space Shuttle would, like Gemini, Mercury, Apollo, and others, endure a 30 minute long communications blackout before landing. However, the Shuttle can communicate with a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite during re-entry. This is because the shape of the Shuttle creates a "hole" in the ionized air envelope, at the tail end of the craft, through which it can communicate upwards to a satellite in orbit and thence to a ground station.[1]

          If the hole was not pointed at a satellite, the communications link would fail.

          • Um... Shuttle, not Soyuz. I don't know if the US makes the TDRS cluster available to the Russians, or if they have an equivalent cluster, or even if a Soyuz makes a big enough hole (although I expect the ionized air envelope to be conical and not close in on itself behind the craft).
          • If the hole was not pointed at a satellite, the communications link would fail.

            Okay but the plasma sheath is basically a reflective tunnel, effectively a conical wave-guide. It would be widest at the far end, because the plasma spreads and disperses, so a signal transmitted back, along the path of the vehicle should bounce along the tunnel and spread by diffraction once the plasma peters out. I don't think the satellite would have to be perfectly aligned with the tunnel, though having it within 30 degrees or so would be an advantage.

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        Hmm.. Reminds me of the Apollo program except they expected the plasma issue. Maybe they thought another frequency would be immune to the issue.

        I don't know about Soyuz, but on later missions the shuttle used TDRS satellites to communicate during reentry. The blackout primarily affects downward radio signals, not upward, so the shutte could have near-constant communications with the ground the whole time (unless it burned up).

      • by mpe (36238)
        Hmm.. Reminds me of the Apollo program except they expected the plasma issue. Maybe they thought another frequency would be immune to the issue.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communications_blackout [wikipedia.org]


        This article only refers to NASA vehicles. There is no mention of any of Soviet/Russian Federation design/manufacture. The original article also does not make it clear if this was a TMA or TMA-M.
    • Wait, you're telling me that plunging through super-heated plasma at mach 17 for several minutes can cause communication problems? HOLY CRAP! :\

      That hasn't been a problem for decades.

  • by KingSkippus (799657) on Friday September 16, 2011 @12:39PM (#37421722) Homepage Journal

    They should make sure to check the crew's DNA very carefully and make sure they're still human. A lot of really bad things in the movies have started exactly like this.

    • by i.r.id10t (595143)

      A lot of really bad things in the movies have started exactly like this.

      FTFY ...

      • by Dog-Cow (21281)

        A lot of really bad movies have started exactly like this.

        FTFY.

      • GParent -"A lot of really bad things in the movies have started exactly like this."

        Parent - "A lot of really bad things in the movies have started exactly like this."

        What the fuck, exactly, did you fix for the GP? Cos I can't se the difference, and those are copy-pasted with incorrect punctuation to force them to appear at the same x on the page.

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      A lot of really bad things in the movies have started exactly like this.

      Uwe Boll, for example.

    • by cornface (900179)

      "Today's big story centers around the killing
      Of District Attorney McGraw, whose body was
      Found in his garage, murdered.

      Dr. Walker is under the impression that these crimes
      Were being perpetrated by dead men charged with atom
      Rays, which gives them superhuman strength and makes
      Them impervious to bullets.

      Well, if you want to believe that story you can."

    • by jovius (974690)

      Maybe some mixed DNA as in Hot Plasma IIV - The Insertion, or as in Space Hotties IV - Fiery Plunge, to which there is also the legendary sequel Two Way Communication.

    • by Hartree (191324)

      "They should make sure to check the crew's DNA very carefully"

      Oh, the crew's DNA is just fine.

      It's all that extra with the unusual nucleotide coding that we're worried about.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 16, 2011 @12:44PM (#37421780)

    Their radio broke. This isn't the first time that something has failed on a Soyuz capsule, and it won't be the last. Twice, the explosive bolts holding on the service module failed to fire. They had that 3rd stage failure a few months ago. They've had capsules land so far off course it has taken hours to get the helicopter there. And so on and so forth.

    Do you know what all of these accidents have in common? They haven't lost a crewmember in 30 years...

    • by SpiralSpirit (874918) on Friday September 16, 2011 @02:00PM (#37422674)
      Only by accident. If that third stage failure had a soyuz carrying astronauts in it, they'd all be dead. Same is true for a half dozen other incidents at least - soyuz TMA-11, Soyuz TMA-1, June 1997 a module of the mir space station was punctured and depressurized during a mid space collision between mir, spektr, and progress, etc etc. The US suffered some catastrophic tragedies with Columbia and Challenger, losing 7 astronauts per incident. It doesn't mean soviet engineering is at all better.
      • by 0123456 (636235)

        Only by accident. If that third stage failure had a soyuz carrying astronauts in it, they'd all be dead.

        No they wouldn't, because unlike the shuttle the launch abort procedure from Soyuz consists of more than 'and then you die'.

        If that rocket had carried astronauts the escape system would have fired and they'd have been sitting on the ground waiting for a helicopter a few minutes later.

        • no it wouldn't, because the soyuz second stage ends after 290 seconds into flight, and the escape system can only be used until 157 seconds into the flight. They'd be dead.
          • by 0123456 (636235)

            no it wouldn't, because the soyuz second stage ends after 290 seconds into flight, and the escape system can only be used until 157 seconds into the flight.

            You mean like the way the Apollo abort rocket was jettisoned soon after second stage separation? Do you think that means that the Apollo astronauts would have died due to a second stage failure?

            No, it means they didn't need it anymore.

            Hint: the only actual, real, actually happened Soyuz launch abort happened more than 290 seconds into the flight. The crew did not die.

            But don't let reality get in the way of a good rant.

      • by Megane (129182)

        Only by accident. If that third stage failure had a soyuz carrying astronauts in it, they'd all be dead.

        Except for the minor difference that a Soyuz has a parachute. As I recall, the main problem was that the launch failed to go high enough. They likely could have separated the crew module and fired the parachutes.

        The US suffered some catastrophic tragedies with Columbia and Challenger, losing 7 astronauts per incident.

        The root cause of the Columbia and Challenger incidents can be blamed on putting the crew vehicle on the side of the rocketry rather than on top. (We're not planning to do that again.) Other than that we only lost three on the ground from failing to understand how fire works, and avoided losing thr

        • so you're saying they weren't high enough, so the parachutes that couldn't have deployed would have saved them? or they'd separate, somehow gain more altitude, and then deploy parachutes? The soyuz escape system doesn't work after the 157 seconds, and the malfunction wasnt detected until 325 seconds. It's possible ancient aliens could have saved them too, but somehow I doubt that likely.
          • by 0123456 (636235)

            It's possible ancient aliens could have saved them too, but somehow I doubt that likely.

            I guess they must have saved the crew of Soyuz-18A.

            • it didn't happen under exactly the same circumstances. Saying the same result would have occurred is pretty inane. in soyuz 18a cosmonauts experience sustained accelerations of more than 20g (which can be fatal), and the parachutes survived far beyond their expected loading @ 15g. The capsule also didn't land in the ocean and get dragged underwater by it's parachute, like a previous soyuz capsule, even though the landing site was completely random. So as I said to begin with - don't attribute to soviet
              • by 0123456 (636235)

                it didn't happen under exactly the same circumstances.

                The Soyuz detected a guidance problem and shut down. The Progress detected an engine problem and shut down. Why do you think the abort would have been any different in those cases, other than having happened later in the second case?

                So as I said to begin with - don't attribute to soviet engineering what is actually luck.

                So your proof that Soyuz astronauts would have died appears to be that in the only actual real launch abort which ever happened so far they survived?

          • The progress payload doesn't have a heat shield so an abort at 325 seconds makes it burn up. The manned launcher does have a heat shield so it makes a normal landing down range.

      • by dbIII (701233)

        It doesn't mean soviet engineering is at all better.

        It didn't before, but now it's a comparison between Russian, Chinese and Indian space engineering.

      • by mpe (36238)
        If that third stage failure had a soyuz carrying astronauts in it, they'd all be dead.

        If the third stage were to fail to ignite can the crew not manually initiate separation of the third stage from the Service Module? (Probably also immediatly also dump the Orbital Module to reduce mass). Then use the engine and thrusters to give control over where they are going to land.
        Even if the third stage were to explode. So long as both the crew and the Descent Module survived the explosion they should still be abl
    • Don't forget the time too when some guy had to fix the door shut using The Inanimate Carbon Rod.

  • by rwven (663186)

    Maybe they should have tried switching to their auxiliary subspace transmitter. Radio? What's that?

  • by dietdew7 (1171613) on Friday September 16, 2011 @01:03PM (#37422008)
    In other news, my LightSquared broadband is working great!
  • Call me a conspiracy theorist if you must but, I'm getting the idea that there might be some interest in the US not relying upon Russia for crew transport... Russia's space tech might be a bit on the old side, but it has never been known to be unreliable. Now inside of a few short months they've been experiencing some pretty serious problems after going for so very long without any.
    • by bmo (77928)

      >Now inside of a few short months they've been experiencing some pretty serious problems after going for so very long without any.

      Because the Chinese are going to be marketing their new heavy booster any day now. Deng Xioping came back from the dead and he's the new marketing director.

      Blame Canada.

      --
      BMO

    • by damburger (981828)

      You are a conspiracy theorist.

      Even if this is a statistically significant cluster of reported failures (I am skeptical of that; random data does cluster you know...) then it could simply be that Soyuz failures are being reported more.

    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      It could also be increased press scrutiny from the U.S. press now that the Russkies are the go-to's for transporting astronauts. The U.S. press has never missed an opportunity to bad-mouth even the most minor of Soviet/Russian technical problems. Now that the shuttle is gone and people are bitching about how we have to rely on Russia, they've focused in on the Soyuz--picking apart every minor problem as some catastrophe waiting to happen (I can almost picture them with their fingers crossed). The U.S. press

  • So the crew was replacedhttp://science.slashdot.org/story/11/09/16/1558202/Soyuz-Capsule-Return-Marred-By-Mystery-Communications-Blackout# with alien drones, big deal.
  • by Dan East (318230)

    Obviously the moon had something to do with this:
    http://www.space.com/12981-nasa-photo-shows-moon-soyuz-space-capsule-landing.html [space.com]

  • "All was well" isn't accurate. At the very least, their communication systems were malfunctioning.

  • Well, it's obvious.. they were abducted by aliens.. and rejected..

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