Is there anyone else who does not know the famous anecdote of Americans spending millions on the development of a space ballpoint pen and Soviet engineers who just used a pencil for it? It is not exactly a comparison that has become a symbol of what distinguishes Soviet and American technical thought. And what will you say that the Russians still have their Soyuz rockets fired… overstuffed matches?
“When US scientists spent millions of dollars trying to develop a way to force a pen to work in space, their Russian colleagues simply fitted astronauts with pencils.” This is not quite a true comparison (Americans before using these pens also used pencils), but rather illustrates the approach of Soviet engineers and designers to solve certain atypical problems – in the simplest way and at the least cost.
Such Soviet solutions aerospace knows much more and one of them has recently come across the “Popular Mechanics” service on the occasion of the Soyuz-2-1b missile launch. This rocket was to launch a Resurs-P3 satellite on orbit on Saturday 12 March. For a few seconds before the engine’s ignition, the computer has managed to automatically stop the startup process by detecting a failure in the ignition system.
It was one of the many matches that the Russians used to fire their missiles. Wear your eyes in surprise? Not the first – to fire off some of their rockets The Russians have been using the device for more than 50 years, called the PZU (abbreviation for “pyrotechnic ignition device“). In essence, it is an overgrown match, made of about a meter of wooden birch sticks, on which there is a pyrotechnic charge for firing a mixture of kerosene and liquid oxygen.
Soyuz family rockets consist of five members, each with four motors and two to four smaller motors. Before each take-off, the technicians to each of these engines mount these “matches” and connect them to the common ignition system. When the pre-start countdown ends, the control signal is sent to each PZU and ignites each motor at one point. The wooden core of PZU is blown away by the thrust of powerful engines and is just like a match.
On March 12, the technicians diagnosed the problem, exchanged damaged PZU and 24 hours after the initial takeoff.