For the first time in International Space Station history, a crew has failed to reach orbit. The spacecraft's escape system safely pulled Soyuz MS-10 with its two-person crew away from the failed booster.
Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Nick Hague lifted off atop a Soyuz-FG rocket at 2:40 p.m. local time (4:40 a.m. EDT / 8:40 GMT) Oct. 11, 2018. Around the time of the separation of the four strap-on boosters — about 2 minutes into the flight — was when the issue occurred. In the NASA TV live stream, the two appeared be jerked before the internal spacecraft video feed cut off.
The crew was unable to use the spacecraft’s abort system as it had been jettisoned seconds earlier. Instead it appears thrusters on the fairing around the Soyuz spacecraft were used to pull the spacecraft away from the failing rocket. This placed the capsule onto a ballistic trajectory, resulting in high gravity loads on the crew during its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Their g-force was reportedly 6 or 7 times that of Earth’s gravity.
Search and recovery teams reached Ovchinin and Hague immediately after they landed in their capsule, according to NASA. The pair ended up landing about 12 miles (20 kilometers) east of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.
The next crew scheduled to launch to the ISS was currently scheduled for Dec. 20—Soyuz MS-11. However, until the problem with this launch is found and solved, no Soyuz spacecraft is likely to be launched.
How this will effect the current crew ISS crew—Expedition 57—and its schedule is currently unknown. The three aboard the outpost are are European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst, NASA astronaut Serena Aunon-Chancellor and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev.
"To clarify the cause of the accident at the Soyuz-FG LV, by my decision, a state commission was formed," Rogozin tweeted. "Telemetry is being studied. Rescue services work from the first second of the accident. The emergency rescue system of the Soyuz-MS ship worked normally. Crew rescued."
This abort comes just six weeks after a hole was discovered in Soyuz MS-09, which is currently attached to the ISS.
On Aug. 30, 2018, flight controllers noticed a minor pressure leak event on the station, leading to the crew discovering the hole, which they repaired with an epoxy gel. An investigation followed but has so far been unable to pinpoint when or where in the spacecraft’s progress to flight the hole was drilled.
The Soyuz spacecraft, while normally very reliable, has had two aborts in the past.
The first was in 1975 when Soyuz 18a failed to separated from the booster's third stage. This was the first in-flight abort, but it didn't involve the use of the launch escape system, which is only needed if an abort happens in the first few minutes of flight.
Soyuz T-10a was the second abort and occurred in 1983. It happened during the countdown before liftoff when a pad fire caused the booster to explode. Two seconds before the explosion, however, the launch escape system was activated to propel the crew to safety. Until the Soyuz MS-10 flight, that was the only time in history that a launch escape system had been used during a crewed flight.
NOTE: While this article was written by Derek Richardson, it was originally published at SpaceFlight Insider.