Russian Rocket Laughs at Lightning

 

Ever since Apollo 12 was struck by lightning shortly after launch, NASA and other western space launch operators have been extremely cautious about launching in weather where there is a risk of lightning—not just lightning strikes in the vicinity of the launch site and ascent trajectory, but anvil clouds and other formations which might contain the charge necessary for lightning discharges.  The exhaust plume of a rocket contains ionised gases, which conduct electricity, and hence can be thought of as a lightning rod hundreds of metres tall.

Russian rockets, by contrast, mostly began their lives as ballistic missiles, where it’s not considered acceptable to say “Bad weather—no World War III today!”, and are famous for launching in blizzards, high winds, and other inclement conditions.

Earlier today (2019-05-27) a Soyuz 2.1b rocket was launched from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia into skies which NASA would never have dared.  Sure enough, shortly after launch, it was struck by lightning.  It just kept on going like nothing had happened, and delivered its payload (a GLONASS-M navigation satellite) into the desired orbit with no problems.

Here, for comparison, is what happened when Apollo 12 was struck by lightning.

SCE to Aux.

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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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