October 11, 2018 at 7:13 am #24692
Soyuz launch to ISS aborted after booster failure; crew safe
An American astronaut and Russian cosmonaut are reported to be in good condition after a problem with their Soyuz rocket minutes after liftoff Oct. 11 forced them to abort their mission to the International Space Station and make an an emergency landing in Kazakhstan.
A Soyuz rocket carrying the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:40 a.m. Eastern. The launch appeared to be normal until around first stage separation, when the crew reported a “failure” with the booster and feeling weightlessness.
“You can not operate in this room unless you believe that you are Superman, and whatever happens, you’re capable of solving the problem.” – Gene KranzOctober 11, 2018 at 11:25 am #24694
For context: the last time a launch abort escape system was used in an actual emergency (as opposed to a pad abort test) was in 1983, also aboard a Soyuz launch (in this case, bound for Salyut 7). It was also a very rough descent and landing for its crew. [LINK]
No such system existed with the Space Shuttle, which instead relied on numerous well-rehearsed-in-the-simulator abort modes, at least one of which was considered a certain suicide by numerous experienced astronauts. [LINK]
Two supply flights are due to be launched to the ISS in the next month, so there’ll be plenty of supplies for the crew already there; the real concern now is the “age” of the Soyuz already docked at the ISS, in terms of how cold its engines and other systems have gotten from 200+ days’ exposure to space. It’s possible that, if the Soyuz launch system is grounded for an extended period of time, the ISS crew might be ordered to return home aboard their existing Soyuz, leaving the station unoccupied for the first time since…
…ah yes, later this month is the anniversary of the arrival of the first ISS crew, so 18 years of continuous crewed operations. [LINK]October 11, 2018 at 11:21 pm #24704
After doing some further reading and trying to winnow out conflicting reports and accounts, it turns out that the crew was not saved by the launch abort tower system (which had already been jettisoned – when that happened is a source of some major confusion). Rather, they were saved by an automatically-triggered secondary emergency protocol, making it much more akin to a previous aborted Soyuz launch in 1975 [LINK], whose crew pulled a bone-crushing 23G descent on their way to a very rough emergency landing uncomfortably close to the Russian/Chinese border.
This very technical account makes it much clearer what happened when, and what was happening with the rocket that suddenly made it a very unsafe prospect to remain on top of it. [LINK]
50 km up at the base of the mesosphere, one of the side boosters reportedly failed to rotate away from the core correctly and smashed into it, causing an emergency abort at T+2:03. The Soyuz-FG core engines shut down, and the remaining part of the SAS (sistema avariynovo spaseniya, System of Emergency Rescue) came into play. The RDG engines on the side of the fairing fired as the upper part of Soyuz (BO, Bitovoy Otsek, orbital module; SA, Spuskaemiy Apparat, descent craft; and GO, golovnoy obektatel’, payload fairing) separated from the lower part (lower fairing and the PAO, priborno-agregatniy-otsek, instrument-service-module) which remained attached to the stage 2-stage 3 stack. At T+2:40, according to a timeline reported by Anatoly Zak at russianspaceweb.com, the SA descent craft was ejected out of the rear of
the BO/GO assembly. All three objects (Soyuz-FG stack, BO/GO and SA) then continued on a ballistic trajectory, reaching an apogee probably somewhere in the 60 to 95 km range and falling back toward Kazakhstan.
The SA, with the two astronauts aboard, deployed its parachutes and floated to a landing 20 km east of the city of Dzezhkazgan. At a postflight press conference NASA astronaut Reid Wiesman reported that the time from anomaly to landing was 34 minutes, which seems rather long even taking the slow parachute descent into account, so I am considering this number as provisional pending clarification. Astronauts Ovchinin and Hague were retrieved safely.
The descent module is the bell-shaped middle of the Soyuz spacecraft (though this is a Soyuz-TMA diagram, the basic outline of a Soyuz has remained unchanged for the better part of the past 50 years.
Also, I just ran across this photo, taken from the ISS itself – it’s worth zooming in.November 2, 2018 at 11:44 am #24774
Good info. Thanks. Until now, my impression was they had not left the atmosphere before returning to Earth. Your information makes it clear they were in space before returning. Inf fact, the problem with the vehicle didn’t occur until they started entering space.November 3, 2018 at 6:06 am #24778
They have released the on-board camera footage showing one of the strap-on boosters colliding with the core rocket. Put in context with the interior cabin video…holy cow, that was probably quite a ride. o_O
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