Russia launched a Soyuz rocket which put a military satellite into orbit on Oct. 25, marking the first successful space sendoff since the recent manned mission to International Space Station (ISS) failed.
Per an AP news report, Russian military confirmed the Soyuz-2 booster rocket launched from the Plesetsk launch facility in Northwestern Russia without incident.
Launch Failure Investigation Still Pending
The investigation remains ongoing into the Oct. 11 incident which forced NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin to make an emergency escape from a Soyuz rocket. A formal conclusion as to the cause of the failure has not yet been reached.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is confident a root cause will be found and is pleased with Roscosmos’ transparency during the investigation. He praised the agency during a Q & A session following a speech at the American Astronautical Society’s Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium on Oct. 25, per SpaceNews.
“Roscosmos has been very transparent with NASA on the failed launch of the Soyuz,” said Bridenstine. “We have really good data and, in fact, we’ve got really good imagery that we have seen.”
The focus of the investigation reportedly seems to be on a potential workmanship issue, which may have caused a problem during the separation of the rocket’s four side boosters and damaged the core stage. A statement of official findings has not yet been given.
Manned Launch Future Remains Strong in Wake of Multiple Concerns
The Oct. 11 Soyuz incident follows the International Space Station crew’s discovery of a 2mm diameter hole in the orbital module of a Soyuz MS-O9 spacecraft, which is currently docked at ISS. The hole caused a temporary pressure drop at ISS, which stabilized after being sealed. A cause has not yet been identified for the MS-09 incident.
Despite the short timespan between these two concerns, Bridenstine remains confident a manned Soyuz launch could happen by the end of the year. He directly addressed the timing for the next manned ISS launch at a recent National Space Council meeting in Washington, D.C.
“We have a number of Russian Soyuz rocket launches in the next month and a half, and in December we’re fully anticipating putting our crew on a Russian Soyuz rocket to launch to the International Space Station again,” Bridenstine said.
Russia’s Oct. 25 military satellite launch is one of the Soyuz launches Bridenstine referenced in his statement. More unmanned launches are scheduled before a human space flight to ISS will launch again. Two of them are planned for November. One of them will be a Progress cargo spacecraft for ISS and the other will carry the MetOp-C European weather satellite.
NASA Seeks to Preserve Roscosmos Relationship, Plans for Reusable Architecture
Bridenstine is also committed to fostering the longstanding amicable relationship between Roscosmos and NASA. He doesn’t want to jeopardize it by commenting on the Soyuz investigation before it has concluded. I have all the confidence in the world that nobody is in jeopardy at this point” because the Soyuz hole has been repaired. Bridenstine noted. “I certainly don’t want to put into jeopardy the relationship between Roscosmos and NASA.”
Per NASA, current International Space Station crew members are NASA astronaut Serena M. Aunon-Chancellor, European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst and cosmonaut Sergey Valerievich. Three other members left ISS on Oct. 4 to make room for the incoming crew, who never arrived.
Bridenstine also addressed NASA’s development of reusable and sustainable space exploration architecture moving forward during his Symposium speech, which includes plans for a reusable command module which would orbit the moon for 15 years.
December’s manned Soyuz launch date is yet to be determined.
Update: On Nov. 3, Russia successfully launched a Glonass-M satellite into orbit from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome (500 miles north of Moscow).