Soyuz Rocket Emergency Landing, Everyone OK

NASA spokesperson [Brandi Dean] summarized it succinctly: “Confirming again that today’s Soyuz MS10 launch did go into ballistic re-entry mode … That means the crew will not be going to the ISS today. Instead they will be taking a sharp landing, coming back to earth”. While nobody likes last-minute changes in plans, we imagine that goes double for astronauts. On the other hand, it’s always good news when we are able to joke about a flight that starts off with a booster separation problem.

Astronauts [Nick Hague] and [Aleksey Ovchinin] were on their way this morning to the International Space Station, but only made it as far as the middle of Kazakhstan. Almost as soon as the problem occurred, the rocket was re-pathed and a rescue team was sent out to meet them. Just an hour and a half after launch, they were on-site and pulled the pair out of the capsule unharmed. Roscosmos has already commissioned a report to look into the event. In short, all of the contingency plans look like they went to plan. We’ll have to wait and see what went wrong.

Watching the video (embedded below) the only obvious sign that anyone got excited is the simultaneous interpreter stumbling a bit when she has to translate [Aleksey] saying “emergency… failure of the booster separation”. Indeed, he reported everything so calmly that the NASA commentator didn’t even catch on for a few seconds. If you want to know what it’s like to remain cool under pressure, have a listen.

Going to space today is still a risky business, but thankfully lacks the danger factor that it once had. For instance, a Soyuz rocket hasn’t had an issue like this since 1975. Apollo 12 was hit by lightning and temporarily lost its navigation computer, but only the truly close call on Apollo 13 was made into a Hollywood Blockbuster. Still, it’s worth pausing a minute or two to think of the people up there floating around. Or maybe even sneak out and catch a glimpse when the ISS flies overhead.

38 thoughts on “Soyuz Rocket Emergency Landing, Everyone OK

  1. Right after Aleksey reported emergency to the ground control. He made a joke: “Быстро мы прилетели” – that can translated like “We arrived to soon.”

  2. Looks like fairly good chance the side-mounted boosters didn’t separate properly. We should be seeing 4 distinct booster rockets spinning away from the main stack. This is called the Korolev Cross, and is iconic of the Soyuz:

    In the video of this launch, it looks like the boosters are moving around erratically. Also seems to be more debris/objects behind the vehicle than normal.

    1. From the initial reports I was given to understand that the abort sequence started before the separation, and as such what we see might have been a result of the unusual sequence rather than the actual cause.

  3. I think Elliot needs to review this list before claiming that ” thankfully lacks the danger factor that it once had. For instance, a Soyuz rocket hasn’t had an issue like this since 1975 …”

    There have been several close calls, including a major fire and a booster explosion in 1983. And I am not even talking about the US astronauts that have perished in both Challenger and Columbia disasters.

      1. I never accused you of running a campaign for Soyuz and I think their safety record is not really in dispute neither. However, your claim is fairly inaccurate, IMO.

        The fire in 1983 was due to a valve malfunction in one of the strap-on boosters (the one that didn’t separate properly/disintegrated this time) causing a turbo pump to spin-up dry, overheat and explode, spewing fuel on the pad. That ignited and the rocket exploded after a while. So it was really a booster failure, not a ground-related issue.

        Then there was Soyuz 33 in 1979 that had engine failure on orbit, resulting in an even nastier ballistic landing. There were also several re-entry emergencies. While these are not specifically booster issues, they are certainly close calls and count for the entire Soyuz launch system (booster + Soyuz spacecraft).

        The recent years have also seen several launch failures of unmanned Soyuz boosters, some quite spectacular (rocket going out of control and crashing/exploding near the pad). Those boosters are almost identical to the man-rated ones.

        And that’s just Soyuz – there were several very close calls on Mir, the US space program had 14 fatalities during that time (7 on ascent, 7 on re-entry), there was the private Virgin Galactic crash too, the Chinese had several horrendous booster failures during their Long March development (one has apparently wiped almost an entire village out when the errant rocket fell there), there was the booster explosion in Brazil that destroyed the entire space center there and tons of cargo/satellite launch crashes (some with fatalities on the ground).

        So to say that going to space “lacks the danger factor that it once had” is completely ridiculous, IMO. We have grown used to the fact that cosmonauts and astronauts are flying into space and most often nothing (visible) happens but that doesn’t mean it is significantly less dangerous than it was in the 70s. Unless there is a crash or an emergency landing the public doesn’t hear about most of the close calls and “anomalies”.

    1. The 1975 event is significant because it was a very similar failure: something went wrong during separation and the vehicle had to abort back to Earth. There have been failures of other types (and as you say, with other vehicles entirely), but this remains only the second time a Soyuz rocket has suffered this particular type of failure.

      1. They don’t do that any more. Now two guys who love sports nutrition and definitely are just tourists – see how well they know the Wikipedia articles on the places they visit! – make a visit.

    1. It is not just these two incidents – they had some major failures in the recent years with the unmanned launches as well.

      Ever since the fall of Soviet Union the Russian space program is notoriously underfunded, there is a ton of corruption (well, like with everything in Russia) and when something goes wrong the investigation is often done to find someone to publicly quarter (well, not literally) and fire than to actually fix the underlying organizational problems. Just look at how often the heads of Roscosmos are changing – 4th director since 2011.

      Back in Soviet times the space program was first and foremost a military affair (rockets to carry nukes, spy satellites, space weapons, etc.), so the funding for those programs always had priority (less so for human spaceflight). After the fall of the Soviet Union this has largely disappeared, the Russian economy simply cannot afford to spend so much.

    1. Because as a ballistic missile it is crap: it uses liquid oxygen, which is cryogenic, so it can’t be kept “in alert” for more than a few hours, and the preparations for flying requires too much time to be really useful as a missile.

      But as a launcher it is really good.

    2. As an ICBM it went obsolete very quickly. “Modern” large russian ICBMs use nitrogen tetroxide and UDMH, both liquid under normal conditions and you can store the rocket fueled for some time…

      As for being the ONLY available human rated launcher right now – apart from being statistically the safest, human rated spacecraft ever built, it worked so Roscosmos just did minor upgrades over the years and kept it. “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke”

      The Saturns would be way too overkill for LEO and Space Shuttles, whose safety record is absolutely terrible and so were the economics have been retired as planned.
      Orion was severely delayed by being cancelled once and the rest is slowly getting their certification…you do NOT want to speed that up, the original Apollo 1 crew payed dearly for rushing things.

      1. The Chinese have the capability, but they are barred from the ISS by the yanks so they made their own space station.
        Then there is Iran and Israel and India, not sure they can do something large enough though to support people and a return capsule..
        Oh and north Korea might get there.
        And last (in my list) but not least: ESA/France, they launch satellites (and deep space probes) all the time, they should be able to rig up a vehicle that can transport people to LEO in no time, although returning them safely is another matter. Still though, they could at least resupply if they wanted to invest in that.

    1. Curious indeed – That’s an early form of radio navigation. They’d send out two radio beams, one broadcasting an ‘A’, and the other an ‘N’ – If you were on one side, you’d hear dah-dit, da-dit, to the other side you’d hear dit-dah, dit-dah, and if you were in the middle, they’d overlap and you’d get a continuous tone. It was phased out as VOR started coming on the air.
      Is that what’s going on here, or is it an odd coincidence?

      1. That’s not what’s going on here. The old navigation system used the fact that a continuous string of A characters is the inverse of a continuous string of N characters. In other words, if you had one transmitter transmitting a continuous tone, and you switched its output between two antennas such that it was always transmitting to one or the other, if you make one antenna transmit a string of A characters, the other will transmit a string of Ns. The As and Ns are interleaved on that old system.

        On the video of the Soyuz launch, you can here the tones in the background, sending ANANAN ANANAN ANANAN repetitively. There is a long pause of silence between each cluster of six letters.

        I don’t know what the significance of ANANAN is. My best guess is that it is simply an easily recognizable pattern.

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