Russian Space Agency Shares Dramatic Footage Of Failed Space Launch

An image of the successful Soyuz TMA-19M rocket launch on December 15, 2015, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. NASA/Joel Kowsky

Last month, a rocket carrying a NASA astronaut and a cosmonaut bound for the International Space Station (ISS) crashed back to Earth in pieces mere minutes into the launch after a booster malfunction sent the spacecraft spinning wildly off course. Thankfully, the crew escaped unharmed.

When it became clear that the lift-off was headed for catastrophe, the Soyuz capsule – the small craft the would have brought them to dock with the ISS – was ejected from the rest of the rocket. It then parachuted to the ground near the launch site, the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in Kazakhstan.

Now, the Russian space agency Roscosmos has released a new video of the harrowing incident, captured by a camera that was mounted to the side of the Soyuz-FG carrier rocket.

The 1.5-minute video, posted to Twitter, shows the rocket ascending from the launchpad to the edge of space – everything appears normal until the 1:25 mark, when the booster separation begins. Two fuel-blasting boosters pop neatly off from the base, but the third veers to the side instead of detaching, immediately sending the whole craft into a dizzying spin. According to reports of the October 11 event, this occurred about 6 minutes after the official launch timer was started.

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Roscosmos’s subsequent investigation into the cause of the booster failure reportedly identified the culprit as a faulty sensor on the nozzle lid of an oxidizer tank. At a press briefing yesterday, Oleg Skorobogatov, head of the agency’s Emergency Commission, stated that the sensor deformation must have happened during assembly of the rocket stages at Baikonur, the spaceport all Russian space missions launch from.

He explained that two other Soyuz rockets are suspected to have the same defect. To prevent a repeat of the booster failure, new equipment checks have been introduced into the rocket assembly process.

One day prior, Roscosmos announced their plan to launch a new Soyuz mission on December 3. Initially, officials had scheduled the launch for mid-December, but moved the date up so that ISS crew could be brought to replace the three astronauts currently on board before they must depart. The trio arrived at the station on June 6, but must leave soon, as their Soyuz capsule can only stay in orbit for 200 days, according to The Verge.

If the re-launch fails, the ISS will be abandoned on autopilot indefinitely.  

The Soyuz program has been in operation since 1967, and has been the sole means of transportation to and from the ISS since the NASA space shuttle program ended in 2011. Through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, SpaceX and Boeing have developed spacecraft to ferry NASA’s ISS astronauts, but manned test flights of both systems will not occur until summer 2019, at the earliest.

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