Soyuz upper stage fails, forces emergency landing of manned capsule

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During a manned Soyuz launch today the rocket’s upper stage failed, forcing an emergency landing of the Soyuz capsule.

A normally reliable Soyuz FG rocket malfunctioned two minutes after liftoff from Kazakhstan Thursday, forcing a Russian cosmonaut and his NASA crewmate to execute an emergency abort and a steep-but-safe return to Earth a few hundred miles from the launch site. Russian recovery crews reported the crew came through the ordeal in good shape. “NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin are in good condition following today’s aborted launch,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted from Kazakhstan.

…two minutes and two seconds after liftoff, just a few seconds after the rocket’s four liquid-fueled strap-on boosters separated from the central core stage, something went wrong. Long-range tracking cameras showed the strap-ons and what appeared to be multiple other objects falling away from the rocket.

“Failure of the booster,” a translator called out, presumably relaying a report from Ovchinin to Russian mission control near Moscow. “Failure of the booster.” Moments later, he confirmed the Soyuz had separated from the rocket’s upper stage, saying “we are in weightlessness.”

During their descent they experienced g-loads as high as about 7 g’s, which is high but not unprecedented or even close to a record.

The quote above calls the Soyuz “normally reliable.” That description applied up until about a decade ago. In the past decade there have been several failures of that rocket, though all previous failures occurred with an unmanned payload.

With this failure the need to get the American commercial capsules operational has become very urgent, since we now have no way to get humans up to ISS. The astronauts on board ISS have Soyuz capsules for return, but no one can come up to replace them.

For example, one of the reasons cited for delaying the first SpaceX unmanned test flight from December into 2019 was scheduling difficulties at ISS. This might change now and allow an earlier flight.

I have embedded video of the launch below the fold.



  • Cotour

    Nothing like a near death experience and an averted catastrophe to bring two country’s together.

    The American astronaut had no space flight experience and this was the Russians second space flight, their survival is a testament to their training and the systems and technology that have been developed that saved their lives.

    Well done.

  • wayne

    …things start going downhill around 2:30 in the video above.

    (can’t believe I did this) (remember when the spacex rocket blew up while fueling? everyone analyzed that to death.)
    The Russian language call-outs are in real time, but the translation is behind and she starts to have difficulty keeping up and gets fragmentary.
    (–Who speaks Russian here?)

    some relevant tidbits, but, by no means a transcript:

    “2:45 failure of the booster”
    “114217 failure”

    “we are weightless”
    “114217 is the time of the failure”
    “we have one illuminated,
    the shroud has separated”
    “did the separation go through? yes it did”
    “114255 separation”
    “yes, ballistic descent command is sent”
    “yes we are getting ready for the g-load
    1246 g-load is…”

  • Kyle

    We got to get the Starliner and Dragon approved for manned flight ASAP, come on NASA cut the red tape and get them approved.

  • geoffc

    Will the Dragon paperwork for crewed flight, printed, and stacked, be taller than the booster itself?

    230ft tall. Paper is usually 0.0039 inches thick.

    That is only 707,000 pages of paper work. Any bets on which way this unfolds?

  • MarcusZ1967


    Depends if it’s a fan or bi fold….


  • geoffc

    @Marcusz1967 – It also depends how it is partitioned and binders eat up a bunch of space. Usually you get this sort of stuff full of binders. (Unless you are Romney, in which case everyone suddenly becomes stupid about that comment).

  • Kirk

    Kyle> We got to get the Starliner and Dragon approved for manned flight ASAP, come on NASA cut the red tape and get them approved.

    The other ASAP, NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, had their fourth quarter public meeting today. Dr. Patricia Sanders, ASAP Chair, opened saying, “Current projected schedules for uncrewed and crewed test flights for both providers have considerable risk and do not appear achievable given the number of technical issues remaining to be solved, the amount of qualifications and reliability tests to be accomplished, and the body of verification work that must be completed.

    Some of the key risk issues, as summarized on NSF:

    * COPV failure investigation still not closed.
    * There have been unspecified anomalies observed with parachute testing and CRS parachutes. Don’t know how serious or if any design changes would be needed. Stressed they think this should be resolved before uncrewed flight.

    * Parachute testing continues, some sort of anomaly on last test. A couple more tests still to do.
    * The pyro assemblies for separating crew module from service module have had unexpected fractures in testing, successfully performed their function but created some FOD.
    * The problem with the launch abort system was described as a harmonic resonance creating a water hammer effect, still working on fixes.

  • Col Beausabre

    My first reaction was “crappy Russian quality control”, but upon reflection I changed my assessment to “business as usual – crappy Russian quality control” .

    War story time (question for the vets out there – what’s the difference between a war story (sea story if yer a swabbie or gyrene) and a fairy tale ?). I served with an armored cavalry regiment in Germany in the early Eighties. The following factoid was told us newbies by the S-2 as part of the in-brief. The engines on new or rebuilt Russian tanks tended to blow up with very short mileage on the clock. Why ? Because of the way lubrication and cooling passages were filled with debris like metal shavings when they left the factory. Things were so bad that the Poles and Czechs tore down the engines of any vehicles their Red Comrades gave them and completely rebuilt them. Things got so desperate that the Poles and Czechs got licenses and started building the darned things (complete vehicles) themselves.

    Good to see the Russians are keeping up the tradition.

  • Kirk

    CB, in my experience a fairy tale begins with “Once upon a time,” while a sea story begins with language Bob would rather not see on his site.

  • MDN

    One of the news stories I saw today said Soyuz has flown something like 645 times with 21 failures. The real eye opener though was the comment that 13 of those 21 failures have occurred since 2010! Oh how the mighty have fallen.

    Also, gotta hand it to NASA to hold up an unmanned test flight until a potential parachute issue is resolved, and for MANDATING the use of parachutes because they deemed the SpaceX Draco (sp?) retro rocket design too risky (which conveniently for NASA also killed SpaceX’s plans to send and land Dragon’s to Mars as tech demo/validation exercises). Again, oh how the mighty have fallen : (

  • Robert Pratt

    If we’d let the demand for perfect cancel out the good we’d never have reached the moon. Bureaucrats, no matter how talented or well meaning, are not entrepreneurial risk takers. That such are standing in the way of those who are is cause for disgust.

  • pzatchok

    Why not use the same parachute system they used back with Apollo?
    That seemed to work pretty good.

  • wayne

    Safe Is Not An Option in Outer Space
    Rand Simberg 2013

  • @geoffc:

    There is an aphorism in the aerospace industry that states no aircraft can fly until the paperwork masses more than the machine.

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