Saturday, 20 October, 2018

Russian Federation launches criminal probe after Soyuz rocket fails

Two astronauts make emergency landing after Russian rocket malfunctions during lift-off Russia's Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft lifts off from the Baikanur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Thursday | Kirill Kudryavtsev AFP
Theresa Hayes | 12 October, 2018, 02:59

US and Russian space officials said NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos' Alexei Ovchinin were safe after an emergency landing in the steppes of Kazakhstan following the failure early Thursday of a Russian booster rocket carrying them to the International Space Station.

Booster rockets carrying a Soyuz spacecraft with a Russian and a United States astronaut on board headed for the International Space Station failed mid-air on Thursday, forcing the crew to make an emergency landing.

Thursday's problem occurred when the first and second stages of a booster rocket, launched from the Soviet-era cosmodrome of Baikonur in the central Asian country, were separating, triggering emergency systems soon after launch.

Glover, the NASA astronaut at the bar, received word that the astronauts were making a "ballistic descent", a much steeper and faster return to Earth than what is ideal - but that search-and-rescue crews were in contact with the astronauts.

With the failure of this launch, there are far-reaching consequences for the world's human space programs, and for those astronauts and cosmonauts now on board the International Space Station.

"Thank God, the crew is alive", Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, told reporters when it became clear the crew had landed safely.

Thursday's accident was the first serious launch problem experienced by a manned Soyuz space mission since 1983, when a crew narrowly escaped before an explosion on the launchpad. Ovchinin spent six months on the orbiting outpost in 2016. NASA has Soyuz seats booked until November 2019, after which it hopes to use private USA companies such as SpaceX and Boeing to ferry its astronauts up and down.

NASA Astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin after the emergency landing.

Visiting Kazakhstan for the first time as NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine witnessed Thursday's launch and promised a "thorough investigation" into the mishap.

Dmitry Rogozin, a Russian space chief, tweeted: "The crew has landed". Both crew members are reportedly safe and in good condition, and have already been reunited with their families. Several minutes into the flight an issue with the booster forced the crew to make a ballistic descent back to Earth.

Russian Federation has continued to rely on Soviet-designed booster rockets to launching commercial satellites, as well as crews and cargo to the International Space Station. NASA is working closely with Roscosmos to ensure the safe return of the crew. Three crew are now aboard the station and were due to return in December.

The abort mode was not improvised, and is a standing contingency for crewed missions to the ISS.

Questions are now likely to be asked about how efficiently Russia's space program is running. That 0.08-inch (2-millimeter) hole in the orbital module of the Soyuz vehicle created a small air leak on the space station that was detected by flight controllers on the ground and ultimately repaired by astronauts and cosmonauts on the space station.

"What we usually do is one group comes up and another group comes down just as part of our regular crew rotation", NASA spokeswoman Kathryn Hambleton said.