Rus­sians iden­tify cause of rocket fail­ure

But it’s still un­clear how it’ll af­fect fu­ture space sta­tion flights

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE - By Alex Stuckey STAFF WRITER alex.stuckey@chron.com twit­ter.com/alexd­stuckey

Rus­sian of­fi­cials say they know why the rocket booster on the space­craft headed to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion failed Thurs­day, but it still is un­clear how the mishap will im­pact fu­ture flights to the or­bit­ing lab­o­ra­tory.

The aborted launch, which forced an emer­gency land­ing, was the first since 2011, when NASA as­tro­nauts be­gan hitch­ing rides in the Rus­sian Soyuz space­craft af­ter the space shut­tles were re­tired. NASA has no other way to reach the space sta­tion and there­fore is grounded un­til Rus­sia sorts out the prob­lem.

On Fri­day, it ap­peared Rus­sian of­fi­cials were well on their way to fig­ur­ing out what hap­pened. Sergei Krika­lyov, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for Manned Flights for Roscos­mos state space cor­po­ra­tion, told state-run news agency TASS that the fail­ure oc­curred when the first and sec­ond stages of the rocket col­lided as they separated.

“A de­vi­a­tion from the stan­dard tra­jec­tory oc­curred and ap­par­ently the lower part of the sec­ond stage dis­in­te­grated,” Krika­lyov said. “This could have been caused by the fail­ure of the sys­tem of the nor­mal sep­a­ra­tion, which should have been ac­ti­vated. We will an­a­lyze the causes in de­tail.”

NASA as­tro­naut Nick Hague and Rus­sian cos­mo­naut Alexey Ov­chinin were aboard the Soyuz on Thurs­day, but are safe and in good con­di­tion.

The next Rus­sian cargo mis­sion to the space sta­tion, sched­uled for later this month, may be de­layed, Krika­lyov said. Or, he said, the Soyuz launch sched­uled for Dec. 20 may be moved up.

“Dif­fer­ent ver­sions of the pro­gram are be­ing con­sid­ered,” he said, adding that Rus­sia plans to re­lease a fi­nal re­port on the in­ci­dent af­ter Oct. 20.

That date is well be­fore the Rus­sian space agency com­pletes its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the ori­gin of a hole that caused an air leak dis­cov­ered in a dif­fer­ent Soyuz at­tached to the sta­tion in Au­gust. That in­ves­ti­ga­tion is sup­posed to be com­plete in Novem­ber, but the Rus­sians have can­celed a planned Nov. 15 space­walk to ex­am­ine the hole.

Ov­chinin was sup­posed to par­tic­i­pate in that space­walk, but Krika­lyov said that Rus­sia will try to com­plete it with one of the next crews.

The Rus­sians have said the hole is not a man­u­fac­turer’s de­fect but was caused by an er­rant drill, ei­ther on Earth or in space.

The failed mis­sion Thurs­day would have been Hague’s first space­flight since be­ing tapped as an as­tro­naut in 2013. NASA of­fi­cials weren’t sure when Hague would get a chance to fly again, but Dmitry Ro­gozin, head of the Roscos­mos, tweeted a photo of him­self Fri­day with Hague and Ov­chinin, say­ing the duo would get to fly again in spring 2019.

How that would work still is un­clear. The Soyuz’s April 2019 launch al­ready has an Amer­i­can crew as­signed to it. NASA could not im­me­di­ately be reached for com­ment on this devel­op­ment.

Hague was not avail­able for in­ter­views Fri­day, but tweeted that he was thank­ful for the sup­port and prayers fol­low­ing his dra­matic de­scent from the sky.

“Op­er­a­tional teams were out­stand­ing in en­sur­ing our safety & re­turn­ing us to fam­ily & friends,” he wrote. “Work­ing with our in­ter­na­tional part­ners, I’m confident that we will find a path for­ward & con­tinue the achieve­ments of ” the space sta­tion.

The U.S. fun­nels a sig­nif­i­cant amount of money into the space sta­tion each year — $1.45 bil­lion in fis­cal year 2017 alone, not count­ing trans­porta­tion costs.

NASA of­fi­cials said Thurs­day they were un­sure whether Rus­sia had been paid the $82 mil­lion for Hague’s seat prior to the launch. If shift­ing timeta­bles are to be be­lieved, Boe­ing and SpaceX’s com­mer­cial crew ve­hi­cles will have their first test flights in sum­mer 2019.

The ve­hi­cles, which would elim­i­nate U.S. de­pen­dence on Rus­sia for trips to the sta­tion, were sup­posed to be ready this year but still aren’t, and the launch dates could eas­ily slip again.

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