Less than two weeks ago, a Soyuz rocket took off carrying a Russian cosmonaut and a NASA astronaut in a Soyuz capsule. The launch normally took about two minutes until the missile encountered a problem, and one of the Soyuz’s emergency escape systems fired automatically, pulling the crew vehicle away from the booster. After a few seconds of rapid acceleration, the crew pod carrying Aleksey Ovchinin and Nick Hague made a relatively normal, safe return to Earth.
After the accident, NASA officials expressed confidence in the Russian space agency’s ability to identify the problem with the Soyuz rocket and implement a solution. “It’s my speculation that they will put a lot of resources into trying to understand exactly what happened,” Kenny Todd, the International Space Station’s mission operations integration manager, said at the time. “I expected them to try that sooner rather than later.”
Russian officials have said they plan to complete their investigation into the Soyuz’s failure before the end of October, and their report will include recommendations on how to fix the problem. Anonymous sources quoted in Russian media say the problem arose because one of the Soyuz missile’s side-mounted boosters was not properly attached to the missile’s core. This booster struck the core when it would fail during launch, aborting the launch.
Successful launch failure
On Tuesday, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine had enough confidence in the Russian research to declare that the next manned Soyuz launch will take place in December. “We fully anticipate” putting a crew on that rocket, he said at a National Space Council meeting. Researchers have a “very, very good idea” about what happened during the erroneous launch earlier this month, he said.
In addition, Bridenstine praised the Soyuz capsule’s response to the missile failure and the life-saving properties that protected the crew members on board. “While this was a launch failure, it was probably the most successful launch failure we could have imagined,” said Bridenstine.
To validate their confidence in the Soyuz rocket, Russian officials plan to conduct three launches of the venerable booster between now and December. These flights included a Russian intelligence satellite, a Russian GPS satellite and a Progress vehicle to supply the station. If these flights go well, the next manned Soyuz launch would take place in early December, bringing Russian Oleg Kononenko, Canadian David Saint-Jacques and American Anne McClain to the station.