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Another Rough Landing for Soyuz

Started by kmichaelm, 04/21/2008 09:36AM
Posted 04/21/2008 09:36AM Opening Post
Yi So-yeon had the misfortune of experiencing a "ballistic" re-entry - where the crew experiences much higher g-loads than a normal aerodynamic re-entry. This is the 3rd time this has happened in the Soyuz TMA flight history. I wonder if you get a partial refund if that happens to a spaceflight participant (paying passenger0? 10 Gs... OUCH!

Soyuz TMA ballistic re-entries:

2003 - Soyuz TMA-1 / Expedition 6

2007 - TMA-10

2007 - TMA-11


Yi describes frightening return to Earth

By DAVID NOWAK – 2 hours ago

STAR CITY, Russia (AP) — South Korea's first astronaut said Monday she was "really scared" when the Russian space capsule she was in made an unexpectedly steep descent to Earth over the weekend.

"During descent I saw some kind of fire outside as we were going through the atmosphere," said Yi So-yeon, a 29-year-old bioengineer. "At first I was really scared because it looked really, really hot and I thought we could burn."

But then she said she noticed it was not even warm inside the Soyuz capsule. "I looked at the others and I pretended to be OK," Yi said.

The steeper-than-usual descent from the international space station subjected Yi, American astronaut Peggy Whitson and Russian flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko to severe gravitational forces during the re-entry Saturday.

The technical glitch also sent the TMA-11 craft off-course and it landed about 260 miles from its target on Kazakhstan's barren steppe.

All three members of the crew walked slowly and were unsteady on their feet Monday when arriving for the news conference at Russia's Star City cosmonaut training center outside Moscow.

Malenchenko said it was not yet clear what caused the unusual descent.

"There was no action of the crew that led to this," he said. "Time will tell what went wrong."

It was the second time in a row — and the third since 2003 — that the Soyuz landing had gone awry.

Officials said the craft followed a so-called "ballistic re-entry" — a very steep trajectory that subjects the crew to extreme physical force. Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin said the crew had experienced gravitational forces up to 10 times those on Earth during the 3 1/2-hour descent.

Yi traveled to the international space station on April 10, along with cosmonauts Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko, who have replaced Whitson and Malenchenko. South Korea paid Russia $20 million for Yi's flight.

Whitson and Malenchenko spent roughly six months performing experiments and maintaining the orbiting station and were replaced by Volkov and Kononenko. They joined American astronaut Garrett Reisman, who arrived last month on the U.S. space shuttle Endeavour.

According to NASA, Whitson, 48, set a new American record for cumulative time in space — 377 days.



It says that:

" ...The crew shocked local farmers as they climbed out of the cramped aircraft after 192 days in space for Whitson and Malenchenko and nine days for Yi.

'They didn't believe we were from outer space, even after we showed them our space suit,' Malenchenko laughed.

The equipage's dramatic appearance apparently left locals puzzling over whether the capsule was a boat or a plane.

Though they helped the strange crew make their location known, local residents refused to believe they had come from outer space until authorities arrived 40 minutes later, Malashenko recounted. "

Posted 04/21/2008 03:52PM | Edited 04/22/2008 12:00PM #1
There are rumors (and perhaps they are only that) about the re-entry of Soyuz TMA-11, that " it may not have been "just" a ballistic entry, either. A poster on NSF reports (third-hand, but the original source is cited as Andre Kuipers) that TMA-11 had a separation problem and started entry nose-forward, similar to Soyuz 5...."

Soyuz 5 had "Separation problems" that almost killed the crew - who survived after experiencing in partially burned through hatch, tangled parachute cables and broken teeth for one of the crew during a very rough landing of Soyuz 5 after the soft-landing rockets didn't fire.

If these rumors are true, this may indicate that something isn't right in russia. Three ballistic re-entries in only 11 flights isn't good in any case.

Andre Kuipers is an ESA astronaut that has flown to ISS on a soyuz flight:

Soyuz 5 re-entry description from

"....The service module of the Soyuz failed to separate after retrofire, but by that point it was too late to abort. While this had occurred on various Vostok and Voskhod flights, it was a much more serious problem for Volynov, where the Soyuz service module was much larger than the small retropack those other vehicles employed. When the Soyuz started aerobraking in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, the combined spacecraft sought the most aerodynamically stable position - nose forward, with the heavy descent module facing directly into the air stream with only its light metal entry hatch at the front to protect it. The gaskets sealing the hatch began to burn, filling the air with dangerous fumes. The deceleration, while normal for reentry, was pulling Volynov outward against his harness rather than against the padded seat.

Fortunately, as the thermal and aerodynamic stresses on the combined craft increased, struts between the descent and service modules broke off or burned through before the hatch failed. The descent module immediately righted itself once the service module was gone, with the heat shield forward to take the brunt of reentry. There was one final problem in store for Volynov when the parachute cables partially tangled and soft-landing rockets failed, resulting in a harder than usual impact which broke his teeth. The capsule had come down in the Ural Mountains 2 km SW of Kustani, near Orenburg, Russia, far short of its target landing site in Kazakhstan. The local temperature was -38 °C, and knowing that it would be many hours before rescue teams could reach him Volynov abandoned the capsule and walked for several kilometers to reach a local peasant's house to keep warm. It would be seven years until Volynov flew again, on Soyuz 21."
Posted 05/01/2008 02:30PM | Edited 05/01/2008 02:31PM #2

Tuesday April 29, 2008, 7:18 pm

DAEJEON, April 29 Asia Pulse - South Korea's first astronaut has been hospitalized due to severe back pains caused by a rough return voyage, the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) said Tuesday.

The state-run institute in charge of the country's space program said Yi So-yeon is currently undergoing a detailed medical checkup at an Air Force hospital in Cheongju, 137 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

It said the astronaut who returned to Earth on April 19 from the International Space Station has been examined with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other scans to determine the exact cause of her discomfort. The tests will help determine if there were any injuries to her muscular or nervous system.

"She has complained of considerable back pains and will have to cancel all her appointments for the time being, including visits to the presidential office and TV interviews," a doctor at the military hospital said.

More at
Posted 05/14/2008 08:36AM #3
As posted on USENET by someone else.. KMM


Internal NASA Documents Give Clues to Scary Soyuz
Return Flight By James Oberg

First Published May 2008

Engineers are attempting to reconstruct the 19 April
Soyuz descent from the ISS


Here is an interesting section:

"However, a suggestive detail in the postlanding
photography, a thruster mounting with jagged gaps
alongside it, indicates that an attitude thruster
burned through. Such damage would have reduced or even
entirely eliminated the crew's ability to point the
crew module during descent. The thruster could have
been lost as a consequence of a vain attempt to steer
the much-heavier-than-expected combined vehicle
through the initial buffeting."

"In addition, Yi So-yeon, the South Korean flight
participant, reported in interviews in Seoul that the
final ground impact was not vertical but sideways,
causing many heavy baggage items to break free from
restraints and hit her."

After parachute deployment the capsule is supposed to
fire a system that releases a bridle from the
side-mounted parachute housing that then swings up
over the top hatch, so that the capsule is descending
vertically under the chute. If it did hit sideways,
that suggests the possibility that something went
wrong with the bridle release and in that case the
landing rockets wouldn't cushion the landing much on