Soyuz MS-10 Crew Lands Safely in Kazakhstan, Following Launch Vehicle Failure

Alexei Ovchinin (foreground) and Nick Hague wave to well-wishers, ahead of their ill-fated launch on Thursday, 11 October. Photo Credit: NASA/Twitter

Soyuz MS-10 crewmen Alexei Ovchinin of Russia and NASA’s Nick Hague have performed an emergency return to Earth and landed safely in Kazakhstan, following a failure in their Soyuz-FG booster. The two men—with Ovchinin making his second launch, having previously spent a half-year in space in 2016, and Hague on his first flight—were launched on time from Site 1/5 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 2:40 p.m. local time (4:40 a.m. EDT) Thursday, 11 October. However, within minutes, ominous reports of a booster “failure” emerged over the airwaves from the Russian launch announcer and the crew performed a high-G ballistic descent back to Earth. When search and rescue forces reached them, Ovchinin and Hague had exited the Soyuz MS-10 descent module and were described as in good condition and healthy.

According to NASA, they were flown via Karaganda Airport back to the Gagarin cosmonauts’ training center, on the forested outskirts of Moscow. “NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and the NASA team are monitoring the situation carefully,” noted a NASA news release. “NASA is working closely with Roscosmos to ensure the safe return of the crew. Safety of the crew is the utmost priority for NASA. A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted.”

Thursday began traditionally for Ovchinin and Hague, with wake-up in Baikonur’s Cosmonaut Hotel about 8.5 hours before launch. The crew showed and were disinfected, then submitted to microbial samples in support of the biomedical experiments to be performed aboard the International Space Station (ISS). After ceremonially autographing the doors of their hotel rooms and receiving a blessing from a Russian Orthodox priest, Ovchinin and Hague were bussed to Site 254 to don their Sokol (“Falcon”) launch and entry suits. They were then transported to Site 1/5, which is the same location from which Yuri Gagarin began his pioneering mission into space, way back in April 1961.

Liftoff occurred on time and the early phase of ascent appeared entirely nominal, with more than 930,000 pounds (422,000 kg) of thrust produced by the single RD-108 first-stage engine and the RD-107 engines of the Soyuz-FG’s four tapering, strap-on boosters. It was expected that a smooth launch would put Soyuz MS-10 on course for a six-hour and four-orbit “fast rendezvous” to reach the space station. However, shortly after launch, with the rapidly ascending rocket merely a high-altitude glow to ground-based spectators, the first indications arose that all was not well. Ominous calls of “booster failure” were heard, via the translated words of the Russian launch announcer, and Soyuz MS-10 entered into a steep, high-G ballistic descent profile, heading for touchdown near the city of Dzhezkazgan, in the Karaganda region of central Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz-FG booster rolls out to Site 1/5 at Baikonur on Tuesday, 9 October. Photo Credit: NASA

NASA’s Brandi Dean, commentating on today’s launch, reported that search and rescue helicopters and ground forces had been scrambled by 4:55 a.m. EDT—only 15 minutes after launch—and were expected to arrive in the vicinity of the predicted landing zone about 90 minutes later. “Soyuz crew did not achieve orbit…and made a ballistic re-entry,” tweeted shuttle and Soyuz veteran Mike Fossum. “Expect higher G-loads for this profile. SAR teams en-route. Praying.”

In the meantime, at 5:20 a.m. EDT, Ms. Dean declared the relieving news that Soyuz MS-10 had landed safely, about 12 miles (20 km) east of Dzhezkazgan, and that Ovchinin and Hague were in radio communications with the search and rescue forces. It was revealed that both crewmen were healthy and in otherwise good condition. High-G ballistic re-entries were also experienced by several previous Soyuz crews, including Soyuz TMA-1 in May 2003, which brought the first crew safely back to Earth in the wake of the Columbia disaster, and Soyuz TMA-11 in April 2008, which landed 295 miles (475 km) off-course, following a pyro-bolt malfunction which prevented the instrument module from separating smoothly from the descent module. A similar contingency had also occurred during the return of Soyuz TMA-10 in October 2007.

Soyuz MS-10 experiences an off-nominal booster-separation event during ascent. Photo Credit: NASA TV, via David M. Harland

Other astronauts who have flown the Soyuz paid tribute to its reliable engineering. “Soyuz has no black zones,” tweeted veteran NASA flier Kevin Ford, who launched aboard Soyuz TMA-06M in October 2012. “The crew can survive booster failures at any point during ascent.”

However, today’s events mark a startling break from “normality”, as the Soyuz has not failed to deliver a crew into orbit for more than three decades. Including today’s launch, 139 Soyuz spacecraft have flown in over a half-century of active service. Four fatalities were experienced on two early Soyuz missions, but an actual ascent emergency, high-G ballistic descent and forced landing occurred only once. In April 1975, Soyuz 18A cosmonauts Vasili Lazarev and Oleg Makarov suffered a booster malfunction a few minutes after launch, when the central core failed to separate from the third stage.

Alexei Ovchinin (lower) and Nick Hague were shaken around quite violently in the Soyuz MS-10 cabin during the abort. Photo Credit: NASA, via David M. Harland

At an altitude of 90 miles (145 km), the spacecraft separated from the rocket and for a second or two the cosmonauts experienced weightlessness, before beginning a steep, ballistic descent. It was noted at the time that Lazarev and Makarov would ordinarily have endured up to 15 G, but actually experienced 21.3 G of deceleration, whose gravitational effects the crew described as “creeping and unpleasant”. Soyuz 18A’s descent module touched down in the Altai Mountains, about 515 miles (830 km) north of the Chinese border.

It would appear, thankfully, that Soyuz MS-10’s descent was considerably smoother than that of Soyuz 18A. By the time the search and rescue forces arrived, they reported that Ovchinin and Hague had exited the descent module. In the wake of the Soyuz MS-10 contingency, Russia has established a State Commission to investigate the circumstances, but Ms. Dean did not anticipate a press conference today. “NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin are in good condition following today’s aborted launch,” tweeted NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who was witnessing his first manned launch since becoming the head of the space agency. “I’m grateful that everyone is safe. A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted.”




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  1. Less than 2 days after NASA announces that SpaceX will launch its first crew to ISS in June-19…Is this Putin Sending a message or has the Russian Space Program come under “labor issues” …. due to lack of payment?

  2. Tracy

    The Russians are very proud of their manned spaceflight program. However, this is the first failure of this Soyuz booster

  3. They Pretend to Pay Us; We Pretend to Work? -old joke in the Soviet Union

    “…Is this Putin Sending a message” No Tracy. The Russians take tremendous pride in their space program and in the modern era they earn much needed hard currency.

    They’ve had their share of failures, but then they’ve launched a lot of rockets. Statistically, their record isn’t all that bad overall, but their failures do seem to come in waves, followed by re-organizations at design bureaus and factories.

    Their Briz upper stage has been a disappointment, and the Proton had a series of spectacular failures that nearly ended its loooooong run. But their Angara rocket program which was going to replace Soyuz & Proton with a modern, modular launcher family, has been a programmatic disaster due to graft, corruption and chronic under-funding by Moscow.


    1 January 18, 1988 Proton-K Blok-DM-2 Gorizont 25L
    Failure Third stage failure due to disintegration of propellant feed line
    2 February 17, 1988 Proton-K Blok-DM-2 Partial Failure Blok D failure caused by ingestion of debris
    3 July 09, 1988 Soyuz-U Yantar-4KS1 #10 Failure
    4 July 27, 1988 Soyuz-U Resurs-F1 Failure First stage engine failure.
    5 November 11, 1988 Soyuz-U Yantar-4KS1 #11 Failure
    6 June 9, 1989 Tsiklon-3 Okean-O1 #4 Failure
    7 April 3, 1990 Soyuz-U Yantar-4K2 #51 Failure
    8 June 21, 1990 Molniya-M (Blok-2BL) Kosmos 2084
    Partial Failure Placed in an incorrect orbit. Satellite did not communicate with ground
    9 July 3, 1990 Soyuz-U Yantar-4K2 #53 Failure
    10. August 9, 1990 Proton-K Blok-DM-2 Ekran-M 14L
    Failure Third stage lost thrust due to a cleaning rag inside propellant feed system
    11 October 4, 1990 Zenit-2 Tselina-2 #8 Failure First stage engine failure five seconds after launch.
    12 June 25, 1991 Kosmos-3MTaifun-2 #26 Failure Second stage malfunction
    13 August 30, 1991 Zenit-2 Tselina-2 #9 Failure Second stage explosion
    14 February 5, 1992 Zenit-2 Tselina-2 #10 Failure Second stage failure
    15 May 27, 1993 Proton-K Blok-DM-2 Gorizont 39L
    Failure Third stage failure
    16 May 25, 1994 Tsiklon-3 Tselina-D #69 Failure Software error prevented third stage separation
    17 March 28, 1995 StartGurwin 1 Failure Failed to orbit, crashed into the Sea of Okhotsk
    18 October 6, 1995 Kosmos-3M Kosmos 2 Partial Failure Second stage malfunction, placed in useless orbit
    19 February 19, 1996 Proton-K Blok-DM-2 Raduga 33
    Partial Failure Blok-DM-2 upper stage failed to restart to circularize orbit
    20 May 14, 1996 Soyuz-U Yantar-1KFT #18 Failure Payload fairing disintegrated in flight
    21 June 20, 1996 Soyuz-U Yantar-4K2 #76 Failure Payload fairing disintegrated in flight
    22 November 16, 1996 Proton-K Blok-D-2 Mars ’96 Partial Failure Probe re-entered atmosphere after fourth stage failure
    23 May 20, 1997 Zenit-2 Tselina-2 #19 Failure First stage failure
    24 December 24, 1997 Proton-K Blok-DM3 Partial Failure Fourth stage malfunction prevented satellite from reaching geosynchronous orbit; salvaged with lunar flyby
    25 June 15, 1998 Tsiklon-3 Strela-3 #119, Strela-3 #120, Strela-3 #121, Strela-3 #122, Strela-3 #123, Strela-3 #124
    Partial Failure Third stage malfunction left satellites in unintended elliptical orbit
    26 September 09, 1998 Zenit-2 Globalstar 5, Globalstar 7, Globalstar 9, Globalstar 10, Globalstar 11, Globalstar 12, Globalstar 13, Globalstar 16, Globalstar 17, Globalstar 18, Globalstar 20, Globalstar 21 Failure Second stage shut down after guidance system failed
    27 July 05, 1999 Proton-K Briz-M Raduga (34) (Gran 45L)
    Failure Second stage failure
    28 October 27, 1999 Proton-K Blok-DM-2M Ekspress-A 1
    Failure Second stage failure
    29 December 24, 1999 Rokot-K RVSN 40 Failure Stage-separation fired before launch
    30 November 20, 2000 Kosmos-3M QuickBird 1 Failure Second stage failed to ignite
    31 December 27, 2000 Tsiklon-3 Gonets 7, Gonets 8, Gonets 9, Strela-3 #125, Strela-3 #126, Strela-3 #127
    Failure Third stage failure
    32 October 15, 2002 Soyuz-U Foton-M 1 Failure First stage exploded seconds after launch
    33 November 25, 2002 Proton-K Blok-DM3 Astra 1K Failure Blok-DM3 left satellite in unusable orbit; spacecraft de-orbited 15 days after launch
    34 Dec. 24, 2004 Tsiklon-3 Sich 1M, Micron 1 Partial Failure Booster failed to circularize orbit
    35 June 21, 2005 Molniya-M Blok-ML Failure Third stage failure
    36 June 21, 2005 Volna-O Cosmos 1 Failure Cosmos Studios/The Planetary Society solar sail satellite failed to separate from booster third stage
    37 August 10, 2005 Rokot Briz-KM Cryosat Failure Second stage failure; crashed in Arctic Ocean north of Greenland
    38 February 28, 2006 Proton-M Arabsat 4A (Badr 1)Failure Failed to reach usable orbit; de-orbited 24 days after launch
    39 July 26, 2006 Dnepr BelKa 1, Baumanets 1, Unisat 4, PicPot, CP 1, CP 2, HAUSAT 1, ICECube 1, ICECube 2, ION, KUTESat-Pathfinder, Mea Huaka’i, MEROPE, Ncube 1, Rincon 1, SACRED SEEDS, AeroCube 1
    Failure Engine failure
    40 Sept. 5, 2007 Proton-M/Briz-M JCSat 11 Failure Second stage failure; booster and payload crashed in Kazakhstan
    41 March 14, 2008 Proton-M/Briz-M AMC 14 Partial Failure Briz-M upper stage shut down 2 minutes early. Owner SES Americom declared satellite a complete loss. AMC 14 sold to US Department of Defense which manuevered into geosynchronous orbit using on-board thrusters.
    42 May 21, 2009 Soyuz-2.1a/ Fregat Meridian 2
    Failure Second stage shut down early, Fregat upper stage ran out of fuel trying to compensate. Satellite left in useless orbit, declared a loss by Russian military.
    43 Dec. 5, 2010 Proton-M/ Blok-DM-3 Uragan-M #739, Uragan-M #740, Uragan-M #741 Failure Rocket failed to reach orbital velocity after upper stage overfilled with propellant.
    44 Feb. 1, 2011 Rokot/Briz-KMGeo-IK-2 11 Failure Upper stage malfunction.
    45 Aug. 17, 2011 Proton-M/ Briz-M Ekspress AM4
    Failure Briz-M upper stage suffered failure of attitude control.
    46 Aug. 24, 2011 Soyuz-U Progress M-12 Failure Third stage failure due to turbo-pump duct blockage.
    47 Nov. 8, 2011 Zenit-2SB/ Fregat Phobos-GruntYinghuo-1
    Failure Zenit placed Phobos-Grunt in proper orbit. Spacecraft stranded in Earth orbit after Fregat failed to fire.
    48 Dec. 23, 2011 Soyuz-2.1b/Fregat Meridian 5
    Failure Third stage failure.
    49 Aug. 6, 2012 Proton-M/ Briz-M Telkom-3, Ekspress MD2
    Failure Briz-M upper stage failed 7 seconds into its third burn.
    50 Dec. 8, 2012 Proton-M/ Briz-M Yamal-402
    Partial Failure Briz-M upper stage shut down 4 minutes earlier than planned on fourth burn. Spacecraft reached intended orbit under own power.
    51 Jan. 15, 2013 Rokot/Briz-KM Kosmos 2482, Kosmos 2483, Kosmos 2484
    Partial Failure Upper stage failed near time of spacecraft separation; one satellite destroyed.
    52 Feb. 1, 2013 Zenit-3SL (Sea Launch) Intelsat 27
    Failure First stage failure.
    53 July 2, 2013 Proton-M/DM-03 Uragan-M #748, Uragan-M #749,Uragan-M #750
    Failure First stage failure.
    54 May 15, 2014 Proton-M/Briz-M Ekspress AM4R
    Failure Proton third stage vernier engine failure due to turbo-pump leak.
    55 Aug. 14, 2014 Soyuz-STB/ Fregat Galileo FOC-1, Galileo FOC-2
    Partial Failure Satellites placed in wrong orbits due to freezing of hydrazine in Fregat upper stage. Satellites made operational as part of Europe’s Galileo navigation constellation.
    56 April 28, 2015 Soyuz-2.1aProgress 59P Failure Third stage failure left Progress in uncontrollable tumble.
    57 May 16, 2015 Proton/Briz-M MexSat-1 Failure Third stage failure anomaly.
    58 December 5, 2015 Soyuz-2.1v/ Volga Kanopus STKYuA 1
    Partial Failure Primary payload Kanopus ST remained attached to upper stage, later burned up in atmosphere. Secondary payload KYuA 1 deployed successfully.
    59 December 1, 2016 Soyuz U Progress MS-04 Failure Third stage failure. Progress supply ship burned up in atmosphere.
    60 November 28, 2017 Soyuz 2-1b Meteor-M 2-1, 18 CubeSats
    Failure Fregat upper stage failure.
    61 October 11, 2018 Soyuz FG Soyuz MS-10 Failure Launch anomaly resulted in emergency landing for two-member crew

    • Wow
      That’s quite a list… So if SpaceX is taking Russia’s commercial work and Blue Origin is coming online soon with their own reusable system and ULA is moving to Vulcan Reuseable and Boeing and SpaceX is taking over Crew, who will use Russia’s systems? China and India? I suspect that those workers with knowledge will go to private startups in the western countries or India or China.

  4. “…who will use Russia’s systems? China and India?

    Russia and maybe a few of their client states, like maybe Iran. China and India both have their own very capable modern launch vehicles (with some Russian tech to be sure, but they are transitioning away from that).

    Vulcan Reusable? No, there are only plans to maybe, someday, recover the first stage “boat tail” with the engines. I’m very very skeptical of this, ULA’s Rube Goldberg inflatable aerodynamic decelerator, complex, heavy parachutes, and the flotilla of recovery ships deployed thousands of miles away with the cargo helicopter to snag the engine section out of mid-air, is not likely to save a dime. There’s a reason ULA has basically stopped talking about this, the parent companies (Boeing and LM) will just count on making money with Vulcan the old fashioned way…their mega dollar lobbyists in Washington DC will cycle through the revolving government/industry door to make sure $billions in DOD/NASA contracts are given to ULA regardless of merit.

    • Then do I dare ask what will the BFR become a reality? To soon to tell? Do we have anything of a carbon fiber booster and spacecraft working? Can it handle repeated reentries at mach 30? Or is this vaporware? I mean success means …$75 per pound to LEO right?

      • ” Then do I dare ask what will the BFR become a reality? To soon to tell? ”

        Too soon to tell, but please consider this. Musk said it would fly early 2019 two years ago. Shotwell said late 2019 last month. That’s a 25% slip in 2 years. Proportionally then, it won’t make first flight later than very early 2020. I can see a fully operational BFR system example of BFB and BFS flying no later than 2024, and 2022 is plausible. Plausible next up and soon would be the tanker since many speculative missions (speculative until BFR/ITS concept) need refueling, and BFS can deploy any known cargo without much trouble*.

        *I look for the BFS cargo area to have a hatch and volume shape such that it can deliver any currently spec’ed cargo, if in fact the BFS is done first. OTOH, if a developer takes SpaceX seriously enough they optimize a payload for BFC and prepay enough for the launch, I can see SpaceX doing the BFC before BFT. I am sure BFS is first because Maezawa paid for it.

        And might I add Japan is really weird! I googled “japanese guy buying bfs trip” to get the man’s name and all kinds of horrifying stuff came up.

        Success means a cost to SpaceX of between $75 to $25/lb to LEO. At the high end, that means a bit over $500/lb to Mars is the cost. The price will be higher than cost.

  5. Does anyone think that this event has increased Russian Launch Value as a demonstration of a launch failure and the crew walking away from it? I thought for sure the crew was going to be in the hospital for months recovering after this event?

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