Soyuz launch failure with crew on board (crew is fine)

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A Soyuz flight that was supposed to launch two astronauts to the ISS had a booster failure (half an hour before this post). The Soyuz capsule separated from the rocket and landed, the crew is fine. Rescue teams got to them quickly. While they had to endure higher g-forces than usual they seem to be in a good condition.

The accident investigation will take months, although we can expect preliminary results earlier. This leads to the question: What happens with the ISS crew? Currently the Soyuz is the only spacecraft that can carry humans there. Two US companies work on their own capsules but they won't be ready for at least 6 more months. Too long for the usual crew rotation. One option would be to keep the current crew of three on the ISS longer - uncrewed resupply missions are independent of this accident. Another option would be to launch another Soyuz soon - while Russia might propose that I'm sure NASA won't be happy with that option. Directly launching the first Dragon 2 or CST-100 Starliner with a crew is also something NASA won't like. They could leave the ISS empty, but that would be problematic on its own.
Personally I expect that they extend the stay of the current crew, and try to speed up the crewed flights of the American spacecraft as much as they can.


Edit: A preliminary investigation shows one of the strap-on boosters hit the second stage during separation. News report
Found by @Jonathan Scott.


Media:

Jeff Foust: NASA: Soyuz in a ballistic descent after booster failure shortly after first stage separation.

Image of booster separation

https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive

 
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  • #2
Borg
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  • #4
.Scott
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According to NASA:
Astronaut Nick Hague of NASA and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos launched at 4:40 a.m. Eastern time aboard the Russian Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. There was an issue with the booster from today’s launch. The Soyuz capsule returned to Earth via a ballistic descent, which is a sharper angle of landing compared to normal. The Soyuz capsule landed east of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan carrying two crew members.

The search and recovery teams reached the Soyuz spacecraft landing site and reported that the two crew members, Nick Hague of NASA and Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos, are in good condition and are out of the capsule. The crew is onboard a helicopter making their way back to Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Roscosmos is forming a state commission to investigate today's Soyuz launch incident. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine shared a statement on the Soyuz MS-10 launch abort.
https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive
 
  • #5
.Scott
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Personally I expect that they extend the stay of the current crew, and try to speed up the crewed flights of the American spacecraft as much as they can.
I would agree. One of the three astronauts on ISS right now is a NASA Flight Surgeon, Serena Aunon-Chancellor.
https://www.nasa.gov/astronauts/biographies/serena-m-aunon-chancellor
That's exactly the expertise you would want on board for extended stays - both for the health of the crew and for taking advantage of the research opportunities.
 
  • #6
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The Soyuz capsule currently at the ISS reaches the end of its design lifetime in December. The planned next flight was in December (to replace the current crew). They could launch this Soyuz without crew and dock it to the ISS, then the current crew can stay up to 6 months longer. That would give them 1 year missions in space, matching the previous ISS record (but shorter than some stays on Mir). 6 more months after December is enough to get Dragon 2 ready, the first crewed flight could be upgraded to an operational flight.

No decision is without downsides, but I think an uncrewed launch of a Soyuz is the one with the least impact.

List of options I see:
  • Make the December Soyuz launch uncrewed, keep the current crew on board for up to a year (shorter if the booster problem can be resolved quickly)
  • Leave the ISS unoccupied after December. It is unclear how well the ISS would survive a few months without human intervention.
  • Launch Soyuz with crew in December. There is no way NASA would be happy with it but Russia could send two cosmonauts.
  • Make the first demonstration mission of SpaceX or Boeing with crew. While I'm sure that will be discussed I don't think NASA will accept that.
 
  • #7
.Scott
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It appears that SpaceX has reached the point where they have more Falcon availability that they have customers. They were launching 2 or 3 a month for a while, but they will end this month with only a single launch. Although the tempo may be picking up in November and December. And, of course, the cargo Dragon is reusable.

So shuttling supplies to and from the ISS should not be a problem - with or without Soyuz.

I don't think they would want the ISS to go unmanned for any amount of time. Almost all of the research would have to be suspended - and that is what ISS is all about.
 
  • #8
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Make the December Soyuz launch uncrewed, keep the current crew on board for up to a year (shorter if the booster problem can be resolved quickly)
I think this will be the one
No way to have credible result about the accident by December, so crew is out of the question... But they need some options open to keep the ISS with crew.
The third option would just not support any positive opinion about the attitude of the russian side for safety considerations.
 
  • #9
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Make the first demonstration mission of SpaceX or Boeing with crew.
I think this is way, way too risky.

Soyuz, even after this incident, has about a 95% success rate. That's about what you get with rockets, once you get the bugs out. Jumping from a tested platform to an untested one is unlikely to reduce risk.
 
  • #10
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I don't think it is likely - I can't see NASA doing it, but it would be an option. An interesting variant would be to launch it uncrewed and keep it docked at the station as return capsule for the existing crew, then the crew can stay and you don't need a Soyuz launch in December. It would only be used in an emergency, and only for landing (which is very similar to Dragon 1 with many successful missions).

Tons of options will be considered, we'll see what gets chosen in the end. I think an uncrewed Soyuz launch to extend the mission of the current crew is the most likely option. The scope of the first crewed flight of Dragon 2 / Starliner might get extended.
 
  • #11
.Scott
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From news articles, the Soyuz spacecraft at the ISS (the one with the leak), has an expiration date. It is only rated for 200 days of orbit. So it needs to come down by early January.
I have no idea if it is possible to re-certify it for a longer stay.
The other possibility would be to have it replaced with the uncrewed Dragon module in January.
Or, of course, bring the astronauts back to Earth.
 
  • #12
They could leave the ISS empty, but that would be problematic on its own.
What exactly will happen to the ISS if there are no crew on it?
 
  • #13
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What exactly will happen to the ISS if there are no crew on it?
It can be operated from the ground but no one can exchange components, cables and so on. It would also stop a good fraction of the science projects.
 
  • #14
It can be operated from the ground but no one can exchange components, cables and so on. It would also stop a good fraction of the science projects.
I thought it might fell to the earth.......glad that’s not the case.
 
  • #15
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The ISS needs reboosts once in a while to stay on orbit, but (a) they can be done remotely and (b) a few months without are not an issue.
 
  • #16
Jonathan Scott
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Roscosmos reveals cause for Soyuz launch failure: http://tass.com/science/1025675

Their provisional conclusion is that one of the four strap-on boosters impacted the core second stage during separation, causing the lower part of the second stage to disintegrate (presumably it pierced the tanks), triggering an automatic abort.

Of course, they still have to identify the cause of the impact. So far they have suggested that a problem with the separation mechanism might have prevented the booster from separating cleanly.

Although the event occurred while the video feed was showing inside the cabin, a subsequently released photo showed a large cloud that formed abruptly around separation time. When the external video was resumed, that cloud was dissipating and the strap-on boosters could be seen spinning away, but they were not in the usual neat "Korolev cross" and there were clearly several more separately visible parts than expected for four boosters (and perhaps the escape tower) in addition to the continuing second stage core.

The voice-over on the video suggested that the escape tower had been jettisoned normally just before that point. Some news articles suggest that the escape tower system was involved in the automatic abort process, but I suspect that was a misunderstanding.
 
  • #17
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The default plan now seems to be a Soyuz launch with crew in December: News. Assuming a quick and satisfactory resolution of the booster issue, of course.
Soyuz MS-11 was planned with a very experienced Russian commander and the first flight for a Canadian and an American astronaut. Normally astronauts have overlapping missions - the new crew is three months in space learning from the old crew, before they leave and the following crew can then learn from the now experienced crew. That doesn't work this time - the three ISS astronauts will leave around the same time as the new three people will get there. Oleg Kononenko has lived on the ISS for 1.5 years, however. They'll probably be fine. It is still possible that they change the team, however.
 
  • #18
.Scott
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One problem they have in keeping the current crew on the ISS longer is that their Soyuz escape vehicle has an expiration date of 200 days in orbit - and will expire in early January. But spaceflightnow.com reports this:
There is also the possibility for Russia to send a Soyuz spacecraft to the space station without a crew later this year, flying in a fully automated mode that Russian engineers already planned to use on a test flight next year. That would allow Gerst and his crewmates to stay aboard the station months into 2019, and still have a certified Soyuz landing craft available to bring them home.
 
  • #19
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Yes, that was discussed in posts 6 and 8 for example.
 
  • #20
Do ISS have some sort of thrusters on it to keep it from falling?
Sorry for the question since this I seldom focus on these kind of things(compared to math,chemistry and physics)
 
  • #21
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Do ISS have some sort of thrusters on it to keep it from falling?
Sorry for the question since this I seldom focus on these kind of things(compared to math,chemistry and physics)
Yes, they do occasional burns to maintain orbit. Burn occurs around 3:30.
 
  • #22
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Most of the time the burns are done from resupply spacecraft, although the ISS has the ability as well. It doesn't need reboosts for many months or even a year, that is not urgent.
 
  • #23
Jonathan Scott
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The voice-over on the video suggested that the escape tower had been jettisoned normally just before that point. Some news articles suggest that the escape tower system was involved in the automatic abort process, but I suspect that was a misunderstanding.
A bit more clarification on the escape system from https://www.rt.com/news/441125-russian-launch-escape-system/:
RT said:
What happened on Thursday was a third variant somewhere in between the 1975 and the 1983 incidents. By the time the Soyuz-MS-10 launch was aborted, its rocket already jettisoned the escape tower, but the fairing was still in place. So the capsule was pulled away by the backup thrusters mounted on the fairing. The crew members, Aleksey Ovchinin and NASA's Nick Hague, actually got away easy, having experienced a little spit to stabilize the capsule during descent and acceleration of just about 6g, which is less than every candidate for a space mission has to endure during training and regular medical tests.
I assume "little spit" was a typo for "little spin".
 
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  • #24
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Do ISS have some sort of thrusters on it to keep it from falling?
Orbital decay** 2km/month
...
ISS is the 9th space station to be inhabited by crews.

** orbit maintained at that altitude with the use of reboost manoeuvres using the engines of the Zvezda module or visiting spacecraft.
 

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