Internal NASA Documents Give Clues to Scary Soyuz Return Flight

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

7 min read

7 May 2008—What should have been a routine return from the International Space Station (ISS) on 19 April 2008 quickly turned into a heart-stopping drama for ground controllers and the three astronauts aboard a Soyuz TMA-11. The craft had disappeared during the descent and was then found on a scorched steppe some 400 kilometers from where it was supposed to land. Now the incident is a technological puzzle to space engineers and a potential political challenge to the international partnership behind the ISS.

Although the technical investigation will take weeks to resolve, NASA and Russian engineers have come to several credible preliminary conclusions. And internal NASA documents, such as ”15S Ballistic Entry Outbrief” by George Kafka, chief of the Safety & Mission Assurance Directorate for the ISS program, reveal a plausible idea of what probably happened.

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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.

NASA

For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

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