A fault in a Soyuz rocket booster has resulted in an aborted crew mission to the International Space Station, but fortunately no loss of life. The astronauts in the capsule, Nick Hague (U.S.) and Alexey Ovchinin (Russia) successfully detached upon recognizing the fault and made a safe, if bumpy, landing nearly 250 miles east of the launch site in Kazakhstan. This high-profile failure could bolster demand for U.S.-built crewed spacecraft. The launch proceeded normally for the first minute and a half, but at that point, when the first and second stages were meant to detach, there was an unspecified fault, possibly a failure of the first stage and its fuel tanks to detach. The astronauts recognized this issue and immediately initiated the emergency escape system. Hague and Ovchinin in the capsule before the fault occurred. The Soyuz capsule detached from the rocket and began a ballistic descent (read: falling), arrested by a parachute before landing approximately 34 minutes after the fault. Right now thats about as much detail on the actual event as has been released by Roscosmos and NASA. Press conferences have been mainly about being thankful that the crew is okay, assuring people that theyll get to the bottom of this and kicking the can down the road on everything else. Although it will likely take weeks before we know exactly what happened, the repercussions for this failure are immediate. The crew on the ISS will not be reinforced, and as there are only 3 up there right now with a single Soyuz capsule with which to return to Earth, theres a chance theyll have to leave the ISS empty for a short time. The current crew was scheduled to return in December, but NASA has said that the Soyuz is safe to take until January 4, so theres a bit of leeway. Thats not to say they can necessarily put together another launch before then, but if the residents there need to stay a bit longer to safely park the station, as it were, they have a bit of extra time to do so. The Soyuz booster and capsule have been an extremely reliable system for shuttling crew to and from the ISS, and no Soyuz fault has ever led to loss of life, although there have been a few issues recently with DOA satellites and of course the recent hole found in one just in August. This was perhaps the closest a Soyuz has come to a life-threatening failure, and as such any Soyuz-based launches will be grounded until further notice. To be clear, this was a failure with the Soyuz-FG rocket, which is slated for replacement, not with the capsule or newer rocket of the same name. SpaceX and Boeing have been competing to create and certify their own crew capsules, which were scheduled for testing some time next year — but while the Soyuz issues may nominally increase the demand for these U.S.-built alternatives, the testing process cant be rushed. That said, grounding the Soyuz (if only for crewed flights) and conducting a full-scale fault investigation is no small matter, and if were not flying astronauts up to the ISS in one of them, were not doing it at all. So there is at least an incentive to perform testing of the new crew capsules in a timely manner and keep to as short a timeframe as is reasonable. You can watch the launch as it played out here:
A NASA astronaut and Russian cosmonaut had to make an emergency landing on Earth this morning after the Russian Soyuz rocket carrying them into orbit experienced a failure during launch. The two crew members — astronaut Nick Hague and cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin — safely landed on the ground in Kazakhstan less than an hour after liftoff and are in good condition, according to NASA. The crew took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:40AM ET. About six minutes after launch, Russias state space corporation Roscosmos said that there was a problem with the booster during the flight. The failure prompted the crew to make a ballistic reentry when the Soyuz capsule enters Earths atmosphere at a steeper angle than normal. Rescue teams reached the landing site and transported the crew out of the Soyuz capsule. Hague and Ovchinin were then flown by helicopter to Jezkazgan. Search and rescue teams report they are in contact with the Soyuz crew, who report they are in good condition. The teams are en route to the landing site. Live updates: Ballistic reentries can be intense for astronauts because they experience higher G forces. With a normal Soyuz landing, crews riding in the vehicle usually pull around 4 Gs. That can double for ballistic reentries. In 2008, a Soyuz experienced a malfunction during landing, prompting a ballistic reentry that reached up to 8 Gs. I saw 8.2 Gs on the meter and it was pretty, pretty dramatic, former NASA astronaut Pegg Whitson, who was on the flight, said in a statement, according to Wired. Gravitys not really my friend right now and 8 Gs was especially not my friend. But it didnt last too long. However, todays crew pulled just 6.7 Gs, according to a recording on NASA TV. Roscosmos has announced that it is forming a state commission to investigate the failure. The Russian state corporation says it is already studying the data from the launch. NASA says that it is also analyzing what happened. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and the NASA team are monitoring the situation carefully, the space agency said in a statement. NASA is working closely with Roscosmos to ensure the safe return of the crew. Safety of the crew is the utmost priority for NASA. A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted. Roscosmos said it would not hold a press conference today. This is the second problem with a Soyuz vehicle in the last few months. In August, the crew members on board the ISS noticed that air was leaking from the station and traced the problem to a hole in one of the docked Soyuz capsules. The leak was patched up just fine, but Roscosmos has been trying to figure out how and when the hole was made. Russia ruled out the idea that it was made by a micrometeoroid impact and has suggested it looks like it was made by a drill. The incident has caused quite a bit of drama, with Russian media suggesting in-space sabotage and NASA coming out against those claims. But todays failure could have even more significant repercussions for NASAs human spaceflight program moving forward. Its unlikely that Russia will launch a crewed Soyuz mission until it has figured out what exactly went wrong during this flight. However, the Soyuz is NASAs only means of getting astronauts to the International Space Station at the moment. Two private US companies — SpaceX and Boeing — are developing vehicles to ferry NASA astronauts to and from the ISS as part of the Commercial Crew Program. However, the first crewed flights of that program are not slated to occur until summer of next year at the earliest. Meanwhile, there are still three people on board the ISS at the moment: NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, German astronaut Alexander Gerst, and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev. The trio launched to the station on June 6th on a Russian Soyuz vehicle. However, their Soyuz capsule can only last in orbit around 200 days, meaning the crew will need to come down by the end of the year. If the Soyuz rocket is not back in operation by then, its possible the ISS may be abandoned for some unknown amount of time. We will continue to update this post when we receive more information. Update October 11th, 7AM ET : This post was updated to include more context about recent events on the space station.