According to details released by Roscosmos, the official Russian space agency, a Soyuz rocket launch failure last month was caused by a faulty sensor. The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on October 11 to head to the International Space Station (ISS.) American astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin were riding atop of the malfunctioning rocket; their mission was aborted and they performed an emergency ballistic landing back in Russia after the launch failure. With the cause determined, plans to send people and supplies will quickly resume to the International Space Station where Hague and Ovchinin were destined to go. One such supply mission will launch from the Mid Atlantic on November 15.
There is currently a workable Soyuz capsule with the International Space Station; astronauts on the station now should be able to safely depart the station and return to Earth using it.
After the failure in October, NASA held a press conference at their Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Kenny Todd, International Space Station Operations Integration Manager, told reporters, “We have every confidence that our Russian colleagues will figure out what is going on.” He added, “This is a very difficult business we’re in. And it can absolutely humble you.” Reid Wiseman, Deputy Chief Astronaut, agreed with that assessment, describing how the business of getting to and being in space is a difficult one.
According to the Russian investigation, a bent sensor was responsible for the failure. Oleg Skorobogatov, Head of the Emergency Commission, Deputy Director of the Central Research Institute of Machine-Building (TsNIImash), said that the Soyuz-FG booster incident occurred because a sensor that signals the separation of the first and second stages was deformed during the rocket’s assembly at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. “The nozzle lid of the oxidizer tank in the block D did not open as a sensor of the stages’ separation was deformed (a 6-degree bend) during the assembly of the ‘package’ at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which was the cause of the off-nominal separation,” Skorobogatov said.
The next launch of a rocket with a Soyuz-FG booster is scheduled for November 16.
Meanwhile, a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket is due to lift off from the Virginia coast early on the morning of November 15. That launch is unmanned, but will bring supplies and science to the astronauts that remain on the ISS and for those that’ll be launched to it now that the Soyuz problem has been identified.