The Russian Workhorse Rocket

You most certainly would have heard of the widely publicized Falcon 9 rocket from recent times with its incredible ability to land and reuse its first stage. You may also have heard of the mighty behemoth that is the Saturn V, the largest and most powerful rocket to have ever flown which successfully landed men on the moon in the early 1970s. Closer to home you may even have heard of the highly reliable Indian PSLV, successfully launching missions for over two decades or probably even the more recent GSLV MK III, India’s own heavy lifter. However, there is one rocket that you may not have heard of that has spanned across all these generations of rockets, old and new, probably because it wasn’t ever as widely publicized as the others. Maybe it was taken for granted because it was always there, working as usual, whenever it was needed. Do you not know what is being talked about? Well, it’s time that you do.

The Soyuz rocket was a Soviet-era orbital class rocket that was first launched in 1966. It belongs to the Soyuz family of rockets which consists of various variants of the original Soyuz rocket, some of which are in frequent operation even today, with updated versions expected to last another decade or so. The rocket was developed from the R-7 family of rockets, which was in turn developed from the Soviet R-7 Semyorka, the world’s first ICBM.

The Soyuz TMA-9 spacecraft launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Sept. 18, 2006 

With a combined total of over 1000 successful launches of the Soyuz family of rockets over the 5 decades of their operation and with a success rate of over 95%, they are not only the most extensively used rockets in the history of spaceflight, manned or autonomous, but also one of the most reliable launch vehicles in human history.

The Soyuz rockets are comprised mainly of three stages. The first stage is made up of four liquid-fueled boosters attached to the central core stage in radial symmetry. It is due to this design that a very characteristic ‘cross’ pattern is formed as the first stage boosters separate from the core stage during flight (booster jettison), famously called the ‘Korolev Cross’, named after acclaimed Soviet rocket engineer and spacecraft designer Sergei Pavlovich Korolev.

Booster Jettison; Source: https://www.esa.int/spaceinvideos/Videos/2014/04/Onboard_cameras_show_full_launch_and_separation_of_Sentinel-1A
Korolev Cross; Source: https://spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/station/crew-31/html/201205150018hq.html

The core stage acts as both the first and second stage. The liquid-fueled four-chambered engine of the core stage lights up before launch, powering the ascent along with the boosters as the first stage and continues to fire post booster jettison as the second stage. The third stage, powered by a smaller liquid fueled four-chambered engine, is the final stage of the rocket that takes the payload to its intended orbit. The Soyuz rockets can also be fitted with an optional Fregat upper stage for increased precision injection of payload into a variety of targeted orbital trajectories.

Soyuz rockets were ones that could always be relied upon for decades, whether it was to launch civilian or military application satellites, cargo resupply missions to old Soviet and Russian space stations and presently to the ISS (Progress cargo spacecraft) or, and most importantly, take humans into Earth orbit (Soyuz piloted spacecraft). This is especially true since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, making the Soyuz rockets the only human-rated rockets in operation that can take people to the ISS, not to mention possibly one of the safest rockets in the world to fly them in, considering their exceptional success record.

Soyuz Spacecraft docked with the ISS

The more recently upgraded variant of the Soyuz family of rockets, Soyuz 2, has proven itself many times recently and is set to replace the older Soyuz variants in the coming years, further extending the life of the Soyuz family well into the next decade.

With an incredible service record spanning over five decades, not only has this rocket served up a contribution to space exploration that is quite possibly unsurpassable, but it has also set a benchmark for launch vehicle reliability that is unlikely to be redefined for decades to come. It truly is one of the most exceptional feats of engineering ever to have been witnessed by our generation, the generation before ours, the generation before theirs and hopefully, the generation after ours.

 

Kiran Nandanan

Third Year

Summer of ’69

In 1964, Frank Sinatra sang his version of “Fly Me to the Moon”. Five years later, it was a reality. Not for Frank Sinatra of course.

“The Eagle has Landed” were the first words said by the man who made it into every history book – Neil Armstrong. In 1969, the Apollo 11 lunar module successfully landed on the Moon. But Apollo 11 wasn’t the only mission that happened; there were five more. All of which took place within a span of nine years. Six missions, nine years. But what was the hurry? You have presumably heard of Yuri Gagarin, Sputnik 1 and the Atomic Age. But how do they make their way into the picture?

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We all know that the Apollo 11 landing took place in 1969. But we may not know that it was President John F Kennedy’s mission for the USA to land their men on the Moon within that decade. All of this comes into play when we mention the Cold War. The war between the Communists and the Capitalists changed the timeline completely. If the Cold War never took place, there would be no advances and innovation in technology, for a while at least. Although the Cold War began in 1947, the Space Race did not occur until 1955. This was the intense competition between both countries to progress in the field of aerospace. This includes artificial satellites, unmanned space probes and human spaceflight. In 1955, both countries announced that they would launch satellites to orbit the Earth within two-three years. NASA, the same NASA that some of you may aspire to work at, was established in 1957. It was a sign that the US was determined to win the Space Race. Neil Armstrong, Saturn V, Apollo missions and a lot more were all creations of the Cold War.

The worry about getting a satellite in space was that it had the potential to be used as a weapon. A nuclear weapon. However, it was nothing to worry about. There was a law, The Outer Space Treaty, dedicated to the banning of weapons in space. Eventually, the Soviets rose above and completed Sputnik 1, the first ever artificial satellite, in 1957. This put the US way behind in the game and in danger of Russia’s technological rises. This lead to the Sputnik Crisis, where President Eisenhower reached a decision to give more importance to winning the Space Race. The political pressure between these two states led to the birth of NASA. Another remarkable achievement had come about for the Soviets – sending the first man into Space. Yuri Gagarin. In 1961, he orbited Earth in the spacecraft, Vostok 1.

At this point, the US realised that they were lagging behind, which lead to the launch of Freedom 7, making Alan Shepard the first American in space. Once again, the Soviets made it to the lead when they sent Valentina Tereshkova in Vostok VI, the first woman in space. Naturally, at this point, America felt threatened and put in more resources towards NASA to ultimately send their men to the Moon.

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Later, the Gemini program was introduced, after the success of the Mercury programs. The intent of the Gemini program was to send two astronauts into space rather than one. Here’s a small bit of trivia: the mission is called Gemini, after the constellation because its capsule would carry two astronauts. One of the memorable Gemini missions was Gemini IV where Ed White became America’s first spacewalker. Just like the ISS was the key to Mars, Gemini was the key to the Moon. The purpose of Gemini was for testing long-duration flight, for docking in orbit and to perfect re-entry. This win proved that the US was ready for the Apollo missions to take place and a lot more. It was this notable progress that resulted in the technology behind today’s ISS. Their perseverance finally resulted in the Moon landing in the Summer of ’69. For those of you that have watched or heard about the movie Hidden Figures, you should know that those women were the brains behind the Space Race.

By 1975, things started to cool down, and both countries decided on the policy of Detente, a joint space flight: The Apollo -Soyuz Test Project. This collaboration brought upon the end of the Space Race.

Here’s some food for thought. The song mentioned in the beginning, “Fly me to the Moon”, was largely associated with the Apollo missions. It was actually, the first song to be heard on the Moon. “So In Other Words”, Frank Sinatra was a genius!

Keep in mind, all the progress in space research is majorly due to the Cold War. Scientific progress came about because the US and the USSR were trying to outdo each other. The Cold War was never a barrier for the Moon landing or NASA, it just happened to be the catalyst for their creation. We would’ve surely seen all this development occur, but only at a later stage.

For Alice to reach Wonderland, she had to fall pretty hard, down a deep hole. Basically, this is a way of saying that even with all the chaos and tragedy, we all got something good out of it.

 

Arpitha Yoga

Second Year

A Lonely Black Hole

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My eyes are wide open

Emptiness showcased

The type you feel when you black out

The colour of me in and out

Born as my parent explodes

Force of gravity, the trickster!

Shrouded with darkness

I am feared by most

Fantasized by some

Experienced by none

Come closer to me and

Your time runs slow

As I distort the space-time around you

Even light is scared to enter me

Coz it can never leave me

Forever stuck in the abyss, but

This abyss is bliss

This emptiness is peace

Come thou all and embrace me

As I give you this chance to drift into your fantasy

Get lost within my event horizon

Into the world filled with ecstasy

Coz you never know what lies within

Million things to be discovered

Billion things to be ventured

All before I evaporate into infinity

Smrithi S

Second Year