Active discussion continues on the accident of the Soyuz-FG launch vehicle, which failed to deliver the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft into orbit. It is already obvious that this accident will seriously affect the Russian space program, and besides, it will hit international projects. The current situation has become a cause for concern of specialists, and also worried the press. The American edition of The Washington Post presented its view of the accident and its consequences.
A few hours after the crash of the launch vehicle, the publication published an article "Astronauts make harrowing escape, but Russian rocket failure roils NASA" - "Astronauts made an emergency landing, and the Russian accident puts pressure on NASA." The article was written by Anton Troyanovsky, Amy Ferris-Rothman and Joel Aschenbach. As the headline suggests, The Washington Post tried to understand the current situation and predict its impact on all current projects.
The article begins with a description of the situation over Kazakhstan. On Thursday, October 11, the Soyuz booster set off for the International Space Station, but two minutes after launch it ran into problems. Because of this, the crew rescue system worked, and the descent vehicle landed in the steppes of Kazakhstan, about 200 miles from the launch site. American astronaut Tyler N. "Nick" Haig and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin made halfway to orbit before returning. According to NASA, the descent began at an altitude of about 31 miles. The cosmonauts were quickly found and returned to the launch site, where they were met by their families.
The Washington Post believes that the crash of the launch vehicle effectively suspends Russian and American activity in space until the investigation is completed. So, over the past seven years, the United States, having abandoned its own Space Shuttle, was forced to send astronauts on Russian ships.
In connection with the incident on October 11, pressure is increasing on Boeing and SpaceX. They are now developing commercial manned spacecraft, and the technology was previously slated to be unveiled in 2018. However, both projects ran into problems and did not fit into the old schedule. As a result, the new ships cannot be expected to fly earlier than the middle of next year.
NASA reports that the three astronauts currently working on the ISS are safe. They have the required food supplies, due to which they will be able to work not only until December 13 - the planned date of return. Their return to Earth will be carried out by the Soyuz spacecraft, which is now on the ISS. At the same time, there are some restrictions: the reserve ship must be returned from orbit before the expiration date of its fuel.
Another three-man crew is scheduled to be sent to the ISS in December, but this mission is now in question due to the accident of the only carrier in use. NASA's management does not exclude such a development of events in which the current ISS crew will be returned home without sending a replacement, and the station will go into autonomous mode. However, NASA is not happy with such prospects. Experts are not eager to leave in orbit a $ 100 billion complex, controlled only by commands from Earth.
Space industry executives have big decisions to make, but for now they can be optimistic about rescuing astronauts. The Washington Post notes that October 11 was a terrible day, but not at all tragic. ISS Program Manager at NASA Kenny Todd said that the day did not go according to plans, but the astronauts returned to Earth. He called astronautics a complex business, associated with certain difficulties.
The American edition recalls the course of events during the emergency launch. The rocket was launched as planned, until a red light inside the spacecraft turned on. An interpreter from the Russian Mission Control Center explained the situation: "a carrier crash." Automatic control systems took over control of the ship and gave the command to separate the descent vehicle. The crew reported the jolt and subsequent weightlessness associated with the transition to free fall.
T. Haig and A. Ovchinin put their ship on a ballistic trajectory to return to Earth. On the descent, they encountered an increase in overload. The maximum value of this parameter reached 6, 7. The descent along the new trajectory lasted 34 minutes, and during this time the crew had no communication with the MCC.
American astronaut Gregory R. Wiseman said that the question "where will the lander fall?" his heart began to pound. At this moment, the Soyuz descent was controlled only by gravity. Search and rescue helicopters rushed to the area of the proposed landing of the cosmonauts.
The descent vehicle automatically released its parachute and landed on the steppe grass. A little later, the first photograph from the landing site was published: one of the cosmonauts was lying on the fabric of a parachute, the other was on his knees. Three rescuers approached them. Doctors examined A. Ovchinin and T. Haig and stated that there were no injuries.
European Space Agency cosmonaut Alexander Gerst, who worked on the ISS several years ago, expressed his joy for his colleagues on his Twitter page. He added that space travel is a serious and difficult job. But experts will try for the good of all mankind.
Russian officials reacted quickly to the accident. They said that the launches of manned spacecraft will be temporarily suspended pending an investigation and clarification of the causes of the accident. The Russian news agency Interfax, citing unnamed sources in the space industry, indicated that the accident could result in the postponement of all launches scheduled for the remainder of the year.
The Washington Post notes that the emergency launch occurred at an important time in international space relations. The two countries maintain good relations over 250 miles above the ground, even during difficult times. This cooperation, according to the American publication, was not hampered by frictions associated with the annexation of Crimea and interference in the 2016 presidential elections.
At the same time, the United States and Russia have not yet agreed on the reasons for the appearance of a small hole in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft, which is now at the ISS docking station. Moscow claims that the recently repaired hole was deliberately made and is the result of sabotage. The US space agency, in turn, this week announced the need for an investigation.
Against the background of these events, the head of NASA Jim Bridenstein went to Kazakhstan to the Baikonur cosmodrome. He planned to attend the new launch of the manned spacecraft, as well as meet with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Rogozin. However, the meeting turned out to be more dramatic than one would expect.
D. Rogozin said that in accordance with his order, a state commission was formed to investigate the causes of the accident. The publication reminds that this was the first accident with the Soyuz in the entire twenty-year history of launches to the International Space Station. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov, who oversees the space program, expressed his readiness to cooperate with the American side during the investigation. Russia is ready to share all the necessary information with the United States.
Commercial space race
The authors of The Washington Post believe that the crash of the Soyuz-FG launch vehicle is putting serious pressure on NASA. In addition, the position of Boeing and SpaceX, which are developing promising manned spacecraft, is getting more complicated. Both private companies are experiencing delays and difficulties. NASA recently announced that the projects of both companies this year will not be able to reach the stage of test flights. The first launches with people on board will take place no earlier than the middle of next year.
The American publication quotes the curious words of Laurie Garver, a former NASA deputy administrator for promising projects, who previously actively supported projects of private companies. She pointed out that the space agency would like to have several manned spacecraft available, but in fact their number is now zero.
John M. Logsdon, professor at the J. Washington University, offers to look into the recent past and assess the events of that time. He recalls the decision to abandon the Space Shuttle and subsequent events. In the early years after this decision, Congress did not provide sufficient funding for the development of new spacecraft. This resulted in problems with projects from SpaceX and Boeing. Considering all known events, the decisions of the Congress cannot be called wise or far-sighted.
The publication recalls the current successes and failures of promising American manned spacecraft projects. So, in June, tests of the ship from Boeing ended in failure. A fuel leak occurred during testing of the rescue system engines. The prototype remained intact, but it needs some kind of improvements.
The SpaceX device also faced serious problems, but it is argued that in January it can be sent to the ISS, albeit without people on board. However, Phil McAlister, who oversees NASA's private spacecraft program, recently warned that there are no clear plans for such projects. Launch dates remain uncertain and may change as the target dates approach.
The Washington Post recalls that the last accident in the program of Soviet and Russian manned flights occurred back in 1983. The Soyuz launch vehicle exploded on the launch pad, and the automatics were able to save the astronauts. Vladimir Titov and Gennady Strekalov successfully left the danger zone and landed near the launch complex.
As American journalists rightly point out, the recent accident of the Soyuz-FG launch vehicle has the most serious consequences in the context of the prospects for the manned space program of the leading countries and the International Space Station project. The only country that has the ability to deliver people to the ISS is not yet able to solve these problems, and other participants in the international program are not yet able to replace it.
At the moment, people can get to the ISS and return to Earth only with the help of the Soyuz series spacecraft and carrier rockets of the same name. The accident of a Russian rocket leads to the suspension of flights for some time and, accordingly, closes the only available path to orbit.
The promising ships Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Dragon V2 are considered as possible competitors of Soyuz. They are proposed to be launched into orbit using Falcon 9 and Atlas 5 launch vehicles, respectively. However, while these projects are at the stage of ground tests, and the first flights of such ships are planned only for next year. Their full operation, accordingly, starts even later.
Apparently, it will not take long to investigate the causes of a recent accident and ensure that new incidents of this kind are prevented. As a result, missiles and ships of the Soyuz series will be able to return to service before potential competitors can cope with all the necessary tests. Thus, there is reason to believe that for a certain time the Soyuz spacecraft will once again become monopolists in the delivery of astronauts to the ISS. How events will develop in the future - time will tell. However, it is clear that in the very near future, specialists from the two leading countries will have to seriously work and improve their equipment.