Soyuz MS-10 Launch Failure

At 08:40 UTC on 2018-10-11, Soyuz MS-10 launched toward the International Space Station with a crew of two on board: Commander Aleksey Ovchinin of the Russian Space Agency and Flight Engineer Nick Hague of NASA.

Shortly after the separation of the four first stage boosters, around two minutes into the flight, Russian mission control began to report “failure”.  The animation shown on NASA TV continued to show a nominal mission.  There were several additional reports of failure, including the time.

Shortly thereafter, Ovchinin reported a ballistic re-entry had been selected, and then that they were weightless.  Then, he reported G forces building to 6.5 (consistent with a steep ballistic re-entry), and then declining to something over two [I think 2.5 or 2.7, but I do not have a recording], which would indicate having passed through the peak of re-entry braking.

There have been no reports from the crew since then.  Russian mission control reports that recovery helicopters have been dispatched to the predicted landing zone, and are expected to take around 90 minutes to arrive.  The launch was on a northeast azimuth, so landing would be  expected to be in northern Russia.

After a long delay (presumably because the descent capsule had passed over the horizon from the tracking stations), rescue forces reported that they had contacted the crew by radio.  The crew reported that they had landed and were in good condition.

I will add updates in the comments as events unfold.

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Author: John Walker

Founder of Ratburger.org, Autodesk, Inc., and Marinchip Systems. Author of The Hacker's Diet. Creator of www.fourmilab.ch.

28 thoughts on “Soyuz MS-10 Launch Failure”

  1. The landing site is now reported to be 20 kilometres east of Jezkazgan, Kazakhstan.  The Soyuz ascent trajectory up to the point of booster separation is relatively steep (which minimises both delta-v loss due to gravity and air friction), so the landing site was not that far downrange from the launch site.

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  2. I was watching the launch video feed, and the image from inside the Soyuz right after booster separation looked a bit more “dynamic” than usual, but I don’t know if that had anything to do with the failure.

    Here is the video feed.  The booster separation occurs a little after the 3:40 mark.  The view inside the capsule looks like a jolt and then seems to repeat several times, as if the video was stuttering and backing up.  The booster separation immediately afterward looks unusual, but it’s easy to be fooled by Sun angles.  The message translated as “failure of the booster” is at 4:30, while the animation continues to show a normal launch.

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  3. I thought as I read this that the astronauts had died so I was very relieved to find out they landed safely.

    Was there a safe abort of a NASA mission shortly after launch? I don’t remember one.

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  4. This is the first failure of a manned Soyuz launch since Soyuz 7K-T No.39 on 1975-04-05.  That was a launch to the Salyut 4 space station, also with two crew members on board.  The failure in that launch occurred much later in flight, at the T+288.6 second mark when the second and third stages failed to separate.  The third stage engines fired still attached to the second stage, which caused it to veer off course.  The Soyuz guidance system detected the deviation and triggered an abort, shutting down the third stage and firing the Soyuz maneuvering engines to separate the spacecraft (the launch escape tower had been jettisoned long before this point).

    With the abort occurring much later in the flight, re-entry was much faster and steeper than in the present case, with the crew experiencing maximum deceleration of 21.3 g (greater than the 15 g expected because, due to the trajectory deviation, the booster was already pointed toward the Earth).  Both crew members survived, although the commander was later reported to have been injured by the high G forces and never flew again.  The flight engineer flew on three subsequent Soyuz missions.

    Although this is the first manned Soyuz launch failure in 43 years, the Soyuz family booster used in this flight has failed a number of times on unmanned missions in those years, most recently in 2016.

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  5. 10 Cents:
    Was there a safe abort of a NASA mission shortly after launch? I don’t remember one.

    No, there has never been a safe post-launch abort of a manned NASA mission.  On the unmanned Mercury-Atlas 3 flight in 1961, the booster’s guidance system failed to engage the pitch and roll program and the booster was destroyed by a range safety command when it flew outside the permitted trajectory limits.  The Mercury capsule’s launch escape tower was triggered by the destruct command and pulled the capsule away from the exploding booster.  The capsule landed 1.8 km downrange and was recovered intact 20 minutes after launch.  Had an astronaut been on board, he would have had a short, eventful and exciting, but safe ride.

    The Mercury-Atlas 3 capsule was cleaned up and re-used on the Mercury-Atlas 4 flight, when it made one orbit of the Earth and returned safely.

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  6. Despite the apparent safe landing of the crew, this is the “nightmare scenario” for the International Space Station.  At present, Soyuz is the only means of launching crews to and returning them from the station, as the SpaceX and Boeing crew launch vehicles are not expected to fly crewed missions before mid-2019.

    Until the Soyuz is certified to return to flight, there is no means to launch new crew to the station.  The three people now on-board could, if necessary, return in their Soyuz capsule (the one with the repaired leak [which is not in the re-entry module]), but that would leave the station untended.  The space station is not designed to operate without a crew on board, so this would be tantamount to abandoning this hole in space, into which around US$150 billion of taxpayers’ money has been sunk.

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  7. 10 Cents:
    I thought as I read this that the astronauts had died so I was very relieved to find out they landed safely.

    Was there a safe abort of a NASA mission shortly after launch? I don’t remember one.

    Me, too!

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  8. The recovery team is now reported to have arrived at the landing site.  They will presumably fly the Soyuz crew back to the launch site.

    Roscosmos has reported that a State Commission has been formed to investigate the failure.  This is the Russian equivalent of a NASA Accident Investigation Board.  There are no plans for a press conference about the incident today.

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  9. Whew! when I started reading this I was afraid we were in for anither  Challenger or Apollo 13 type scenario.

    Y’know what the other thing is?  It seemed curiously…old-fashioned. How weird  is that?   “Space, the final frontier” and all that!  But it took me back to  sitting on the gymnasium floor with my entire school, watching  what looked like a wobbly shuttlecock on a tiny black and white TV screen.  .Godspeed, John Glenn!

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  10. Here is a frame grab of the launch moments after separation of the four first stage boosters courtesy of Anatoly Zak’s RussianSpaceWeb.

    Soyuz MS-10 booster separation

    What you usually see at this moment is the “Korolyov Cross”, with the four side boosters symmetrically falling away from the centre core stage which continues to burn.  Here’s a picture from Soyuz TMA-04M.  (One of the boosters is seen through the plume of the core stage.)

    Soyuz TMA-04M Korolyov Cross

    In the Soyuz MS-10 image at the top, the four boosters are not symmetrical, and there’s a messy cloud both behind the stages and around the core stage which I’ve never seen before.  It almost looks like there’s a fifth piece at the 6 o’clock position and something curious near the booster close to the 9 o’clock position.  There are only four boosters.

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  11. Here is a photo, just released by Roscosmos, of the crew after recovery from the landing site.  Note the post-landing snack laid out at the Jezkazgan airport.

    Soyuz MS-10 post-flight

    Soyuz MS-10 post-flight

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  12. John Walker:
    Here is a photo, just released by Roscosmos, of the crew after recovery from the landing site.  Note the post-landing snack laid out.

    Soyuz MS-10 post-flight

    Soyuz MS-10 post-flight

    What are those snacks? Sounds like a Monday Meal post to me.

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  13. John Walker:
    Roscosmos has reported that a State Commission has been formed to investigate the failure.  This is the Russian equivalent of a NASA Accident Investigation Board.  There are no plans for a press conference about the incident today.

    This is Russia. They are looking for a Jew to blame this and the drilled hole on. Or someone to blame who can then be called a Jew.

    There an old saying about the anti-Semitism of Eastern European countries: “In most countries, if you are a Jew you are viewed as an enemy of the state. In ______, if you are an enemy of the state you are viewed as a Jew.”

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  14. John Walker:
    Despite the apparent safe landing of the crew, this is the “nightmare scenario” for the International Space Station.  At present, Soyuz is the only means of launching crews to and returning them from the station, as the SpaceX and Boeing crew launch vehicles are not expected to fly crewed missions before mid-2019.

    Something tells me that SpaceX could get something up in about a week. You know that Musk is thinking about paying the space station a personal visit.

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  15. Here is a Scott Manley video with a quick look at the accident and its implications for the space station.  It includes some tracking camera imagery which was not shown in the real-time launch broadcast which suggests something very odd happening around the time of booster separation.  In fact, it’s reminiscent of the SpaceX CRS-7 tank failure, but not as catastrophic.  This segment starts at 1:24 in the video and is repeated at greater length at 7:28.

  16. John Walker:
    Until the Soyuz is certified to return to flight, there is no means to launch new crew to the station.  The three people now on-board could, if necessary, return in their Soyuz capsule (the one with the repaired leak [which is not in the re-entry module]), but that would leave the station untended.  The space station is not designed to operate without a crew on board, so this would be tantamount to abandoning this hole in space, into which around US$150 billion of taxpayers’ money has been sunk.

    Manley presents a more urgent situation in that the existing capsule’s sell-by date is 2 months away. Presumably, the intention was that several would shortly return in that capsule, leaving the MS10 capsule for the remaining astronauts.

    But he points out that the Ruskies can attempt to send up an empty capsule even while manned launches are suspended.

  17. ctlaw:
    Manley presents a more urgent situation in that the existing capsule’s sell-by date is 2 months away.

    In the NASA press conference a few hours ago, they indicated it’s possible to stretch the Soyuz life a little—they mentioned into early January, but that only buys a couple more weeks.  The plan was that the MS-10 capsule would have become the new lifeboat and the MS-09 capsule currently at the station would return the crew now on the station on December 13.  That would have left the station with a crew of only two for a week until Soyuz MS-11 arrived on December 20 with three additional crew.

    Soyuz MS-12 was planned to be launched in April 2019 with one Russian and one NASA crew, plus a visitor to the station funded by the UAE space agency.  The visitor was to return a week later when MS-10 (which launched with only two crew) returned.

    All of this is likely to be re-shuffled now.

  18. ctlaw:
    Something tells me that SpaceX could get something up in about a week.

    Rand Simberg has been saying for more than a year that if NASA accepted the level of risk which was routine up through the end of the Apollo project, Crew Dragon could have been flying already.  There is a completed Crew Dragon sitting at the Cape right now, which could be mated to a booster and launched.  NASA has imposed “human rating” requirements on SpaceX which are just silly.  They want 7 consecutive successes of the identical Block 5 configuration for the Falcon 9 before they will approve a launch with crew, while their published manifest for their own SLS paper rocket envisions launching a crew on its second flight (which, of course, will not have the experience of dozens of launches of Falcon 9 family rockets).

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  19. John Walker:
    They want 7 consecutive successes of the identical Block 5 configuration for the Falcon 9 before they will approve a launch with crew, while their published manifest for their own SLS paper rocket envisions launching a crew on its second flight (which, of course, will not have the experience of dozens of launches of Falcon 9 family rockets).

    sounds ok to launch without crew and return with crew

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  20. John Walker:

    ctlaw:
    Something tells me that SpaceX could get something up in about a week.

    Rand Simberg has been saying for more than a year that if NASA accepted the level of risk which was routine up through the end of the Apollo project, Crew Dragon could have been flying already.  There is a completed Crew Dragon sitting at the Cape right now, which could be mated to a booster and launched.  NASA has imposed “human rating” requirements on SpaceX which are just silly.  They want 7 consecutive successes of the identical Block 5 configuration for the Falcon 9 before they will approve a launch with crew, while their published manifest for their own SLS paper rocket envisions launching a crew on its second flight (which, of course, will not have the experience of dozens of launches of Falcon 9 family rockets).

    NASA, proud builders of the world’s deadliest spacecraft!

    or

    NASA Losers since Apollo in manned spaceflight.

     

    Let them stick to probes

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  21. NASA, proud builders of the world’s deadliest spacecraft!

    Alas.

    My off-the-cuff evaluation of NASA et al is that the real reason they’ve buried Space X under such intense “safety” requirements is so their space gravy train can’t be threatened.

    That is, they’re deathly afraid that some private sector organization- perhaps even one with the vile idea of making a profit from their space activities- might actually succeed at creating access to space cheap enough to allow something like space tourism or perhaps even another moon landing.

    Forgive me for stating the obvious. Anyway, I still recall being infuriated to read after the Columbia disaster that some NASA nitwit declined the chance to inspect the shuttle with a telescope because NASA had the smartest people ever and therefore nothing could go wrong.

    I’m paraphrasing badly from my faulty memory in saying that, but as far as I’m concerned NASA should be shut down. All the worthless tax-eating bureaucrats should be fired and the grifting contractors cut off, so some competent organization could be created to actually accomplish something in space.

    Perhaps Trump’s space force- but certainly not the NASA that presently exists.

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