Two weeks after the failed launch of the Soyuz MS-10 craft that had an American astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut on board that resulted in an emergency abort and landing 200 miles from the launch site, the Soyuz family returned to flight today (Oct. 25), launching the Lotos-S1 payload into orbit. The launch occurred at 03:15 Moscow Time on Thursday and the satellite was deployed about ten minutes after launch.
On Thursday, October 11, 2018, the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:40 a.m. EDT (or 2:40 p.m. local time), on what was supposed to be a four-orbit or six-hour trip to the International Space Station when something went wrong 2 minutes after launch after the four liquid-fueled boosters separated from the main stage.
While the final report on the accident hasn’t been released yet, but according to nasaspaceflight.com and other sources, the cause of the accident has been focused to an improperly installed liquid strap-on booster and that caused an improper separation and caused contact with the core stage that caused the main engine to shut down. The emergency escape system worked as designed, pulling the crew away from the mishap.
Television cameras just happened to show in the cabin at the time of the incident and it showed American astronaut Nick Hauge in view and Cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin (partly obscured by cargo). Hauge seemed to look up in surprise as he was seemed to come forward in his straps ( probably due to the engine on the main core first stage shut down) just seconds before being violently lurched from side to side (Hauge later said that was the moment when the emergency escape system pulled them away from the failing rocket).
Since the accident, there has been concern about having to leave the International Space Station without a crew for a time until it’s safe for the crew to return flying on a Soyuz. The reason is that the now three-member crew on the Station’s Soyuz capsule has an end-of-lifespan and that will be just after the new year 2019.
Russian officials have determined that the cause of the launch failure was due to a sensor that triggers the LOX (liquid oxygen) valves to vent at the top of the strap-on booster. The findings were released to the media this past Thursday by the State Commission that was formed by Roscosmos immediately after the accident. The failed sensor failed to separate one of the strap-on boosters cleanly from the core stage and the booster slid down the core stage where it impacted the vehicle. That impact knocked the core stage askew and the main engine shut down. There was a dramatic film taken from an onboard camera aboard the Soyuz that caught the botched booster separation. I have included the released video from the Soyuz rocket below.
The launch of the next manned Soyuz to the International Space Station has been moved up to December 3rd so there will be plenty of time for a proper handover to the next Expedition Crew. There will be a spacewalk when the crew arrives at the Station to take a look at the departing crew’s Soyuz capsule to make sure there is no other visible damage to the vehicle since there was a hole that was found in the forward section from the crew compartment. A few months ago there was a master alarm that was sounded aboard the Space Station and it was from a pressure leak that was detected. The crew found the hole that was seemed to be drilled and covered up by some epoxy that gave way. There is an investigation ongoing to see if it was a deliberate act. If the spacewalkers find no evidence of further damage, the three crew members now aboard the Station will depart the station and land before their Soyuz capsule expires its planned lifetime as a lifeboat on the Station.