Soyuz MS-10 fails to reach orbit, crew safe – UPDATE
BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan — For the first time in International Space Station history, a crew has failed to reach orbit after lifting off. It appears that the MS-10 spacecraft’s steering rockets were used by the crew to conduct a ballistic abort.
Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Nick Hague lifted off atop a Soyuz-FG rocket at 2:40 p.m. local time (4:40 a.m. EDT / 8:40 GMT) Oct. 11, 2018. Around the time of the separation of the four strap-on boosters—about 2 minutes into the flight—was when the issue occurred. In the NASA TV live stream, the two appeared to be jerked before the internal spacecraft video feed cut off.
The crew was unable to use the spacecraft’s abort system as it had been jettisoned seconds earlier. Instead it appears thrusters on the fairing around the Soyuz spacecraft were used to pull the spacecraft away from the failing rocket. This placed the capsule onto a ballistic trajectory, resulting in high gravity loads on the crew during its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Their g-force was reportedly 6 or 7 times that of Earth’s gravity.
Search and recovery teams reached Ovchinin and Hague immediately after they landed in their capsule, according to NASA. The pair ended up landing about 12 miles (20 kilometers) east of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.
NASA astronaut Jeff Williams told SpaceFlight Insider’s Michael Cole (who was at the Cosmodrone) that Hague and his family were doing well. Williams’ served as the escort for Hagues’ family throughout their stay.
Hague was described as looking good, but he and Ovchinin will be kept under observation at the Baikonur City hospital overnight. Hague will likely return to Houston tomorrow (Friday Oct. 12). The decision to have them spend a night in the hospital was made by NASA and Roscosmos flight surgeons.
The next crew scheduled to launch to the ISS was currently scheduled for Dec. 20—Soyuz MS-11. However, until the problem with this launch is found and solved, no Soyuz spacecraft is likely to be launched.
How this will effect the current crew ISS crew—Expedition 57—and its schedule is currently unknown. The three aboard the outpost are are European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst, NASA astronaut Serena Aunon-Chancellor and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev.
“To clarify the cause of the accident at the Soyuz-FG LV, by my decision, a state commission was formed,” Rogozin tweeted. “Telemetry is being studied. Rescue services work from the first second of the accident. The emergency rescue system of the Soyuz-MS ship worked normally. Crew rescued.”
NASA also released a statement following the abort.
“The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station at 4:40 a.m. EDT Thursday, Oct. 11 (2:40 p.m. in Baikonur) carrying American astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin. Shortly after launch, there was an anomaly with the booster and the launch ascent was aborted, resulting in a ballistic landing of the spacecraft.
“Search and rescue teams were deployed to the landing site. Hague and Ovchinin are out of the capsule and are reported to be in good condition. They will be transported to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia outside of Moscow.
“NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and the NASA team are monitoring the situation carefully. NASA is working closely with Roscosmos to ensure the safe return of the crew. Safety of the crew is the utmost priority for NASA. A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted.”
This morning’s events could best be described as confused with the NASA Public Affairs Officer announcing the milestones on NASA’s stream the mission was supposed to be accomplishing (apparently from a script) unaware of what was actually taking place.
Following this, contradictory information began coming out before it was retracted. Accurate information was only issued hours after the failure took place. Part of this confusion was caused by the fact that the thrusters used during the abort were located on the shroud covering the spacecraft – not on the launch tower – which had been jettisoned only a few seconds earlier.
“I was watching the latter stages of the launch in my binoculars and did not think it looked right. There were no glowing boosters after separation – just a disappearing contrail and a thin line of continuation and then nothing. It didn’t look right at all,” Cole reported. “We walked up to the area where the cars of the agency people were parked and the media cameras were set up to record statements and thoughts, etc. That’s when I started to sense that something was wrong. There were a lot of dour faces and few smiles and everyone seemed very subdued. Then Dmitry Rogozin came out with his entourage and immediately got in theirs cars and left.”
This abort comes just six weeks after a hole was discovered in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft, which is currently attached to the space station. These events will likely cause further stress on NASA to field their own spacecraft and launch vehicles that are capable of sending astronauts to and from the orbiting laboratory. As it stands now, the U.S. Space Agency has no way of reaching the ISS outside of Russian Soyuz rockets. NASA has lacked the capability to launch anyone on its own – for more than seven years.
On Aug. 30, 2018, flight controllers noticed a minor, but definite, pressure leak event on the station. This led the crew to discover the small hole, which they repaired with tape and hardening epoxy gel. An investigation followed but has so far been unable to pinpoint when or where in the spacecraft’s progress to flight the errant hole was drilled.
At present, NASA pays Roscosmos more than $70 million per seat to have their astronauts transported to and from the International Space Station.
The Soyuz spacecraft, while normally very reliable, has had two aborts in the past:
The first was in 1975 when Soyuz 18a failed to separated from the booster’s third stage. This was the first in-flight abort, but it didn’t involve the use of the launch escape system, which is only needed if an abort happens in the first few minutes of ascent.
Soyuz T-10a was the second abort and occurred in 1983. It happened during the countdown before liftoff when a pad fire caused the booster to explode. Two seconds before the explosion, however, the launch escape system was activated to propel the crew to safety. Until the Soyuz MS-10 flight, that was the only time in history that a launch escape system had been used during a crewed flight.
This story will be updated as more information is released.
Update 7:12 a.m. EDT: Cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin and astronaut Nick Hague are in helicopters and being flown to Baikonur, not Moscow as previously reported.
Update 12:16 p.m. EDT: NASA hosts update on abort.
Michael Cole contributed to this story
Video courtesy of Space Videos
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity.