[FPSPACE] Death in space

Chris Jones clj@emc.com
21 Sep 2000 13:40:35 -0400

"Woods, Dave" <dave.woods@lmco.com> writes:

  I believe the original Vostoks were placed in extremely low orbits
  that would insure a natural decay within the time duration of the
  life support systems.  Phil is right, in that at the present time,
  piloted spacecraft are in much higher orbits that will not bring
  them down soon enough.  That retro burn has to happen for a
  safe return.

But doesn't a Soyuz (of all flavors except the L1 derivative) have a backup
deorbit engine?  So, yes, it has to occur, but a failure of the main engine
isn't automatic death.  (Of course, if the service module is prematurely
jettisoned, as almost happened in the case in question, it *is* death.)

The Soviets/Russians seem to always have been cautious regarding retro
failure.  In addition to the low Vostok orbits and the backup engine on Soyuz,
one of the changes made for Voskhod was to add a backup solid deorbit motor,
since Voskhod was placed in a higher orbit than Vostok.

Jim Oberg (quite rightly, IMHO) criticized the Soviets for launching Voskhod
without a launch escape system for the early phases of flight.  But the US went
that route with the shuttle, and compounded the error by putting SRBs, which
can't be terminated, on the launcher.