U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin are safely back on Earth after a harrowing launch attempt early this morning to the International Space Station (ISS) was aborted after a Soyuz-FG booster failure inflight.
Russian crewed flights grounded
While it’s too early to pinpoint what went wrong, what we do know is that this launch anomaly will ground the Russian crewed Soyuz fleet until an investigation is completed. While there is no official announcement yet that Russian crewed Soyuz flights are grounded, it’s clear an investigation will mean just that.
NASA’s Administrator tweeted this morning that “NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin are in good condition following today’s aborted launch. I’m grateful that everyone is safe. A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted”
.@NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin are in good condition following today’s aborted launch. I’m grateful that everyone is safe. A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted. Full statement below: pic.twitter.com/M76yisHaKF
— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) October 11, 2018
Cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, left, and @AstroHague, right, embrace their families after landing in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Hague and Ovchinin arrived after a safe landing on Earth following a Soyuz booster failure during launch earlier. More – https://t.co/elZZZoQrWm pic.twitter.com/80vH9Ft4Ex
— NASA HQ PHOTO (@nasahqphoto) October 11, 2018
ROSCOSMOS, the Russian space agency, tweeted this video showing the astronauts returning to Baikonour.
There are two immediate implications of this action.
There is no way for Russians to launch astronauts to the International Space Station until the investigation is complete and the Soyuz-FG returns to flight. American access to the space using either the Boeing or SpaceX manned spacecraft won’t happen until early next year with the first uncrewed demonstration flights. Should those succeed, then a crewed demonstration flight would follow perhaps by mid-year. Regular crewed flights won’t happen until after those milestones are achieved.
For Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques, it means his December launch date is on hold for the moment. It seems unlikely an investigation can be undertaken and completed and have Russian return to flight occur within the two months before Saint-Jacques is scheduled to fly.
Saint-Jacques is in Baikonour as he was part of the backup crew. His last tweet showed him in front of the ill-fated Soyuz.
Le Soyouz est transporté jusqu’à la rampe de lancement. L’équipage principal ne peut être présent puisqu’il parait que ça porte malchance. // The Soyuz is being rolled out to the launch pad. The prime crew can’t be here because it could bring bad luck.
Photos: NASA pic.twitter.com/UTCklkjnEr
— David Saint-Jacques (@Astro_DavidS) October 10, 2018
Another factor that could delay Saint-Jacques flight is that today’s astronauts, Nick Hague and Alexey Ovchinin, are fine and are intended to fly first.
The Canadian Space Agency issues a statement which in part said “the Canadian Space Agency is monitoring the situation. Safety of the crew is the utmost priority for all space agencies. A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted by Roscosmos, the Russian space agency. It is not known whether this will affect Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques’ launch date of December 20, 2018.”
The next scheduled launch to the ISS is October 31 when a Russian Soyuz-2.1a, a different variant of the Soyuz rocket, is supposed to launch the 71st Progress cargo resupply spacecraft. It’s unclear if this launch will proceed, though it seems unlikely. Even before the resupply mission takes place, a Soyuz 2.1b, yet another variant of the Soyuz, is scheduled to launch a Russian satellite to Low Earth Orbit.
Early speculation as reported by Anatoly Zak has Russian media outlet RIA Novosti quoted as saying “industry sources as saying that telemetry analysis of the failed Soyuz MS-10 launch points toward possible pyrotechnics separation problem between the first and second stage.”
RIA Novosti quotes industry sources as saying that telemetry analysis of the failed #Soyuz MS-10 launch points toward possible pyrotechnics separation problem between the first and second stage…
— Anatoly Zak (@RussianSpaceWeb) October 11, 2018