The Soyuz Rocket Failure and What It Means for Commercial Space Flight

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On Thursday, October 11th, NASA’s Expedition 57 to the International Space Station failed to reach orbit due to an anomaly in the Soyuz rocket launch sequence. The two Flight Engineers onboard, American astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, successfully aborted the launch and landed safely in Kazakhstan approximately 34 minutes after the malfunction. This surprising failure of the commonly reliable Soyuz launch system could cause immediate problems with the International Space Station, or ISS, and it raises concerns about the safety of Soyuz rockets. It could also have larger repercussions on the prospects of commercial space travel for companies like SpaceX and Boeing, which are looking to send manned trips to space in the near future.

Photo via TsENKI

Expedition 57’s failure means that the ISS crew will not be reinforced with new members until another launch capsule can be constructed. The 3-man crew currently occupying the space station is scheduled to return to Earth by this January using their own Soyuz capsule. Thursday’s mishap could mean the ISS would have to go unmanned for a short period of time, putting many scientists on edge. The ISS was designed to operate unmanned for short periods of time if need be, but having nobody around to fix spontaneous problems could jeopardize the $100 billion station.

In addition, Thursday’s incident was the closest a Soyuz rocket has ever come to a life-threatening failure, and it raises some questions about whether the Soyuz system is still the best way to launch rockets into space. Accordingly, all Soyuz flights have been grounded until further notice.

Since the American Space Shuttle program was shut down in 2011, Russian Soyuz capsules have been the only way to send people to space, but companies like SpaceX and Boeing are racing to provide alternative launch systems by as soon as next year. The possibility of faults with the Soyuz showing up this week pushes for American-made rocket alternatives, incentivizing the two companies to expedite their rocket building and testing processes.

On the other hand, the possibility of problems with manning the ISS have pushed back the plans of both companies by a few weeks. NASA postponed SpaceX’s first crewed mission to June 2019 and Boeing’s to August 2019.

Even after Thursday’s events though, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine retains his confidence in the Soyuz rockets. He plans to launch another crew in December using a Soyuz capsule, and if all goes to schedule, the ISS will not have to fly solo anytime soon.

Featured Image via Reuters

About the author

Kartik is a new sophomore at St. Mark’s School. He lives in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts and is a boarding student. He enjoys rowing, watching movies, and reading about current events. He is a member of St. Mark’s A Capella and enjoys singing for the school choir. In his free time, Kartik likes to work out with friends. This year, Kartik hopes to be a thoughtful contributor to the Parkman Post and create content which highlights unique perspectives on the news.

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