What had become almost a routine process for Russia’s space program ran into an issue today when the launch of two crew members cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and astronaut Nick Hague aborted shortly after the first stage booster separation.
The two crew members were on their way to the International Space Station (ISS) and the flight was proceeding nominally until the four strap-on boosters separated. Around the same time, a large plume of fuel could be seen escaping from the area of the vehicle. This was followed shortly afterward by an alarm sounding, at which time the Russian Translator on the live feed started talking about booster failure and preparations for ballistic abort.
The crew landed safely around 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan and have been picked up by the search and rescue crews that were station about 90 minutes away from the landing site. They are now on their way to Moscow and will then return to the launch site to meet with their families.
At present the impact on the ISS is unknown, Russia has announced they have set up a state commission to investigate the anomaly. However, unless they can find an immediate cause of the issue and it can be resolved quickly it seems likely that there will be a stand-down of crewed launches using Soyuz. This will mean that with no other vehicles available to launch crew to the ISS at present due to the delays in the US commercial crew program, and with the limited lifespan the Soyuz vehicle has on orbit that we may have to face the possibility of decrewing the ISS until such time that crewed launches can resume.
However, at present, the current crew of ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst who is currently the commander, Sergey Prokopyev and NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor have plenty of supplies available and are not scheduled to leave the station until December having arrived in June. Unfortunately, this is close to the lifespan of the Soyuz vehicle so there may not be a lot of room to extend the mission.
10/13/2018 – Update
While the telemetry is still be analysed the leading theory at this point is that one of the first stage strap-on boosters failed to separate correctly and impacted the second stage causing the launch abort. The sequence of events meant that the main launch abort tower had already jettisoned however the Soyuz has a second abort system built into it (which apparent very few people knew about) which kicked in to take the crew away from the failing booster.
Russia has reported that they will provide an update on the investigation by October 20th at which time we should have a better idea of what impact this will have on future launches of Soyuz.
We will update this article as further information is made available.