A Russian Soyuz FG rocket, identical to one that malfunctioned during launch last month and forced a space station-bound crew to execute a dramatic abort, successfully boosted a cargo ship into orbit Friday. The launch clears the way for resumption of crewed flights next month.
With its engines throttled up to full thrust, the Soyuz rocket, carrying a Progress cargo ship loaded with 2.8 tons of supplies and equipment, blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1:14 p.m. EST (GMT-5; 12:14 a.m. Saturday local time), climbing directly into the plane of the space station’s orbit.
Two minutes after liftoff, the four liquid-fueled strap-on boosters making up the rocket’s first stage were jettisoned as planned and the flight continued under the power of of the Soyuz FG’s central second stage. The third stage then took over, boosting the Progress MS-10/71P supply ship into its planned preliminary orbit about eight minutes and 45 seconds after liftoff.
The Oct. 11 abort was blamed on a malfunction in the system used to jettison one of the four first-stage boosters. The strap-on crashed into the rocket’s central core stage, triggering a computer-orchestrated emergency abort for Soyuz MS-10/56S commander Alexey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Nick Hague.
Both men landed safely about 250 miles from the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site, but Russia’s workhorse Soyuz rockets were grounded while engineers sorted out what went wrong.
The problem was quickly traced to a bent, or deformed, mechanism in the separation system. No details were provided, but engineers examined downstream rockets to make sure the separation systems were in good shape and properly installed. They then pressed ahead with three successful launches of non station-related payloads.
The Progress cargo ship launched Friday was perched atop the same model booster used for space station crew launches. The flight was viewed as a final demonstration proving the Soyuz FG booster is once again ready to safely carry cosmonauts and astronauts to low-Earth orbit.
Given the rocket’s apparently flawless performance, the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, is expected to proceed with plans to launch the Soyuz MS-11/57S spacecraft on Dec. 3, carrying commander Oleg Kononenko, Canadian flight engineer David Saint-Jacques and NASA astronaut Anne McClain on a four-orbit flight to the space station.
In a recent interview with CBS News, McClain said she had full confidence in the Russian booster that will propel her to orbit.
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SOURCE: CBS News, William Harwood