Just last month, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft poised to send an American astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut to the International Space Station failed mid-flight. Both occupants escaped the rocket unscathed and parachuted safely back to Earth, but Russia later followed up with a full-scale investigation to discern the reason for the disastrous launch.
Image Credit: Sergei Savostyanov/TASS
A press conference held by Roscosmos at the end of last week revealed how the investigation is officially over. The Russian space agency attributed the botched rocket launch to a damaged sensor that was designed to facilitate stage separation. The damaged sensor resulted in a collision between the first and second stages during separation, which then prompted the spacecraft’s emergency abort system.
“The launch ended up with a launcher failure caused by an abnormal separation of one of the strap-on boosters that hit with its nose the core stage in the fuel tank area,” elucidated Oleg Skorobogatov of Roscosmos in a public statement. “It resulted in its decompression and, as a consequence, the space rocket lost its attitude control.”
Video footage from the day of the rocket launch was released last week by Roscosmos, depicting what transpired that unfortunate day:
Upon watching the footage, it becomes evident that one of the smaller strap-on boosters smacked its nose cone on the bottom of the core stage. These are supposed to fall away cleanly from the core stage, but the damaged component hampered with the expected result.
The Soyuz platform earned its reputation as a tried and true platform for sending astronauts to the International Space Station. The last known instance of Soyuz malfunction transpired in 1983, and Roscosmos doesn’t expect any future mishaps.
In an attempt to prevent this issue from happening again, Roscosmos says it will carefully disassemble, inspect, and reassemble its current stockpile of Soyuz rockets.
Roscosmos will also move forward with an un-crewed test launch on November 16th that will bring fresh goods and supplies to the International Space Station. If everything goes as planned, will then the Russian space agency will follow up with a crewed launch by December 3rd to make up for lost time.
It’s great to see that the Soyuz platform will be back up and running again, but commercial space companies like Boeing and SpaceX are inching closer to bringing crewed rocket launches back to American soil. Doing so reduces our independence on foreign nations to travel to space and provides NASA with additional payload flexibility.