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Russia plans first manned launch to ISS since October accident

Soyuz TMA-7 spacecraft was launched on October 1, 2005 and completed its duty on 8 April 2006. (Thegreenj/Wikimedia Commons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russia’s space agency said a failed blastoff earlier this month was due to a “malfunctioning sensor,” as it announced plans to launch in December its first manned rocket to the International Space Station (ISS) since the incident.

In the first official report on the cause of the incident, Roskosmos on October 31 said a sensor that indicated the separation of the first two stages of the Soyuz rocket carrying a manned capsule malfunctioned after liftoff.

In the aborted October 11 mission, the capsule carrying a two-man Russian-American crew bound for the ISS landed safely in Kazakhstan. Russian cosmonaut Aleksei Ovchinin and U.S. astronaut Nick Hague were unhurt.

“At the moment of separation [of the rocket’s first and second stages], one of the lateral first-stage engines was not ejected far enough and hit the propellant tank of the second stage, which caused the tank’s rupture,” said Sergei Krikalyov, the executive director of the manned spaceflight program at Roskosmos.

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Krikalyov said efforts were being taken to ensure the safety of future flights, and he announced plans to launch on December 3 a manned rocket to the space station “in order to avoid shifting the ISS to an unmanned mode.”

The mission crew that is currently working aboard the ISS might return to Earth on December 20, he added.

Russian rockets have experienced an array of glitches in recent years, but the latest mishap was the first to be experienced by a manned Soyuz capsule since 1983, when a crew narrowly escaped before a launchpad explosion.

Hague and Ovchinin were due to spend six months on the ISS. Roskosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said earlier that space authorities plan to send Hague and Ovchinin up to the ISS in the spring of 2019.

The current crew working aboard the ISS since June 6 consists of Sergei Prokopyev (Russia), Serena Maria Aunon-Chancellor (United States), and Alexander Gerst (Germany).

The next crew, Oleg Kononenko (Russia), Anne Charlotte McClain (U.S.), and David Saint-Jacques (Canada), was initially scheduled to be sent to the ISS in late December, but that launch was rescheduled after the October 11 accident.