Bridenstine Confident Next Soyuz Flight Will Take Place as Planned – UPDATE

Bridenstine Confident Next Soyuz Flight Will Take Place as Planned – UPDATE

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters in Moscow today that he “has no reason to believe” the next Soyuz launch will be delayed. His comment comes one day after the Soyuz MS-10 mission did not reach orbit because of a booster failure. Russian officials know what happened — the first and second stages of the Soyuz FG rocket collided after separation — but are still investigating why.

The Soyuz FG rocket was intended to send the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft with NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of a routine ISS crew rotation.

The on-time launch at 4:40 am Eastern Daylight Time appeared perfect at the beginning, but 2 minutes and 45 seconds later, at an altitude of about 50 kilometers, the launch was aborted.

Soyuz FG has three stages that fire in succession, with each separating from the others when the fuel is depleted.  Russia’s official news agency Tass reported today that part of the first stage collided with the second stage when the two separated.  Sergei Krikalev, Executive Director for Manned Spaceflights at Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, told Tass that “apparently the lower part of the second stage disintegrated.”

Krikalev is one of Russia’s most experienced astronauts.

The rocket’s own systems automatically aborted the launch and Ovchinin, the Soyuz commander, manually activated the ballistic descent mode for the spacecraft.  The segment of the spacecraft that houses the crew safely parachuted back to a landing near the town of Zhezkazgan.

Russia places rescue teams along the rocket’s flight path just in case of such an emergency and they were able to reach the landing site by the time Soyuz MS-10 landed 34 minutes later.   Hague and Ovchinin were returned to Baikonur after a quick stop in Zhezkazgan for a medical checkup.  They pulled about 6-7 Gs during the ballistic reentry, but reportedly are fine.

Bridenstine was at the launch and greeted them upon their return.  He did an interview for NASA TV last night where he called the crew’s actions “heroic” and profusely thanked the Russian rescue team and the “NASA family” who were there at the launch and expertly handled the situation.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (center right) greets NASA astronaut Nick Hague (center left) after his return to the Baikonur Cosmodrome following the Soyuz MS-10 launch failure.  Credit: NASA

Russia immediately established an investigation commission, which has opened a criminal inquiry into safety violations.  Tass said today that the results will be available “later this month, after October 20.”  NASA ISS Operations Manager Kenny Todd said yesterday that NASA will have its own investigation to support its flight readiness reviews.

Bridenstine was in Moscow today and spoke with reporters at the U.S. embassy there.  His remarks were widely reported.  Bridenstine’s press secretary Megan Powers confirmed to that he said “I have no reason to believe at this point it will not be on schedule” referring to next Soyuz flight in December.

UPDATE: On October 15, Bridenstine issued several tweets with clips of his remarks at the embassy, including these two, the second of which includes the quoted text:

That flight, Soyuz MS-11, will take NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko to the ISS.  ISS crews rotate on 4-6 month schedules.  Each Soyuz can accommodate up to three crew members.  Typically there are six people aboard the ISS except during these crew rotations when the complement drops to three.  Right now the three ISS crew members are NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev.

Kirkalev told Tass that various options are being considered, including delaying the next robotic Progress cargo launch and “[p]ossibly we will speed up the launch of the next Soyuz.”

For his part, Hague tweeted his thanks to the rescue teams as well and expressed optimism about the path ahead.

Indeed, Roscosmos General Director Dmitry Rogozin tweeted that the two would indeed get their flight, and it is planned for “the spring of next year.”  He is in the center in this photo, with Ovchinin on his right and Hague on his left.



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