One down, two to go. Russia inches closer to putting a crew on Soyuz while celebrating 50 years since the first Return To Flight

Meanwhile, China notches up another launch success and a commerical orbital miss

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While the Hubble Space Telescope gingerly spun its gyros back to life, China and Russia were busy lighting the business ends of rockets with varying levels of success in this week's round-up.

One down, two to go for Soyuz

Russia returned its troubled Soyuz booster to flight last week with a successful launch of a Lotos reconnaissance satellite on Thursday at 0015 UTC.

The launch was the first of a Soyuz since the rocket carrying a fresh crew to the International Space Station failed shortly after take-off, sending the surprised astros on an earlier-than-planned trip back to Earth.

Russia previously said that it would be happy to stick another crew on top of a Soyuz booster once it had conducted three successful launches of the launcher family. The Soyuz-2.1b launch vehicle used this time around is not quite the same as the one used for ISS launches, but that is unlikely to stop Roscosmos from trumpeting it as a step toward a return to crewed flight.

NASA, on the other hand, have stated that it would prefer to see the results of the investigation into the mishap before shoving its astronauts into the cramped confines of a Soyuz capsule. One of the lessons learned from Space Shuttle accidents has been to “listen to the hardware”. A hole drilled in a Soyuz orbital module and a failed launch indicates the hardware is speaking loud and clear.

50 years since Russia first returned to flight

While the current administration jumps through the hoops required to get crews back into Soyuz capsules, cosmonauts celebrated 50 years since the launch of Soyuz 3 on 26 October, which put the USSR back into the crewed spaceflight business after the disaster of Soyuz 1.

Like NASA’s Apollo 7, much was riding on Soyuz 3. The mission called for its solo pilot, Georgy Beregovoy, to dock with a previously launched and uncrewed Soyuz 2. Rendezvous and docking was something that would be required for potential Soviet lunar missions and for subsequent trips to the Salyut space stations.

The US had already demonstrated its prowess with the technique during the Gemini program.

Unfortunately, while Beregovoy managed to get close to Soyuz 2, he used up too much fuel attempting to dock with the thing, and that part of the mission had to be aborted. Soyuz 2 returned to Earth autonomously. Beregovoy spent the remainder of his time in orbit making Earth observations before heading to a landing on 30 October.

The successful launch and landing of Soyuz 3 as well as the lunar flyby (but crash-landing) of the Zond 6 spacecraft did nothing to help jittery nerves at NASA that the Soviets were about to beat the US to Moon. It would, however, not be until August 1969 before the USSR would successfully send the uncrewed Zond 7 around the Moon and back to Earth in one piece.

By that time, the race to the Moon was over.

Success and failure for China space in a record-breaking year of rocketry

China’s 29th launch of the year sent the Haiyang 2B ocean observation satellite into orbit. The satellite, which is the second in a series of Earth observation birds, lifted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre at 22:57 UTC on 24 October atop a Long March 4B booster. It joins Haiyang 2A, which was launched back in 2011, also on a Long March 4B.

The three-stage Long March 4B launcher has enjoyed a reliable career to date, clocking up 30 successes and one failure since its introduction in 1999.

Less successful was last week’s maiden flight of Zhuque 1, a solid-fuelled 3 stage rocket from commercial Chinese launcher outfit, LandSpace. The rocket, carrying a payload for China Central Television, lifted off from a mobile platform at the Jiuquan Launch Centre at 0800 UTC on 27 October but, alas, failed to get to the correct orbit.

The failure of the 30th launch of the year for China is a setback for the country’s commercial aspirations, but overall the People’s Republic has already surpassed 2016’s total of 22. A mission to drop a lander and rover on the far side of the moon in the form of Chang’e 4 is scheduled for December this year. ®

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