Critical Launch Abort Systems

On Thursday, October 11, the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on its way to the International Space Station with NASA American astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin. Soon after the launch, there was a problem with the booster and the launch ascent was aborted, resulting in a ballistic landing of the spacecraft and a safe return of both astronauts to Earth.

A ballistic landing during an abort sequence has happened four times in the Soyuz program. This kind of steep descent and landing is pretty terrifying, but abort systems are designed to help save astronaut lives during a mishap. The two astronauts received about 6 to 7 Gs of force on their bodies—that’s 6 to 7 times their weight.

Early Russian cosmonauts like Yuri Gagarin and US astronauts like John Glenn made routine ballistic re-entries to get back down to Earth in the early space-race days of the 60s.

Here is the launch and abort simulation:

I am looking forward to the launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon launch which will be the first US astronaut launch from the USA since 2011. (Crew Dragon has a Launch Abort Systems as well, see SpaceX Crew Dragon astronaut: A chance meeting in the desert)

Click here for larger image

The Mars Orion spacecraft also has an excellent Launch Abort System (See Mars Orion Launch Abort System)

The Orion Spacecraft has a very powerful Launch Abort motor made by Northrop Grumman that powers the Orion Crew Module away from the launch vehicle.

From my many visits to NASA facilities around the US, I have seen one main theme at the forefront of the US Space Program—astronaut safety. This is NASA’s primary focus.

10 comments on “Critical Launch Abort Systems

  1. Andy_I
    October 17, 2018

    The line for the video in your article says, “Here is the launch and abort simulation.”

    So where is the simulation?  That looks to me like the real thing that happened last week.

  2. Steve Taranovich
    October 17, 2018

    @Andy_l    Sorry—click on the video image right below that line

  3. Andy_I
    October 17, 2018

    The graphic image that's in your article, which is taken from the second page of NASA's Orion Launch Abort System Fact Sheet, states that the Jettison motor pulls the launch abort system away from the Orion capsule, letting the capsule land in the Pacific Ocean.

    So here's what I'm wondering:

    Did NASA forget that the Kennedy Space Center is in Florida, and that Florida is on the Atlantic Ocean?

    Or is NASA building a new crewed launch complex in Hawaii (or California with retrograde launches)?

    Or does the Launch Abort System have enough fuel to carry the Orion capsule half-way around the earth?

    Or did NASA hire the Russians or Japanese to write their Fact Sheet?

    Hmm, this does not give me a warm fuzzy feeling with confidence that NASA learns from previous mistakes.  (“Oops!  We used the wrong units!   We used the wrong ocean!”)  This could lead to a bad day for NASA's new up-goer thingy.

  4. Andy_I
    October 17, 2018

    Yup, I did that.

    What I meant was, that wasn't a simulation .  That was reality.

    Oh, wait.  Maybe you meant the simulated videos while it's downrange and still going uphill — since there is no camera next to it in space.  ROSCOSMOS kept showing that sequence for some time after they were no longer on the intended flight plan.

  5. Steve Taranovich
    October 17, 2018

    @Andy_l—-The end of the video on YouTube is a simulation of the Abort system activation

  6. Andy_I
    October 17, 2018

    Maybe that video has been edited since you wrote the article.  There is no simulation in it anymore of the abort system activation, and no simulation near the end of the video, just the video feed from inside the mission control rooms.

    FYI — there are conflicting stories about whether or not they used the launch abort system on that Soyuz launch.  Most stories I've seen say that the launch abort system/tower had already been ejected before the booster failure occurred, so they couldn't use it.  Other rockets were used instead.

  7. Steve Taranovich
    October 17, 2018

    @Andy _l—those rocket images and abort images look like a simulation to me. Unless the Space Station has a camera that good, but they do not look real to me

  8. Steve Taranovich
    October 17, 2018

    @Andy_i—look at 3:20 to 6:30 into the flight into the video—it looks like a sim (Sorry—it was not at the end of the video like I had mentioned)

  9. Andy_I
    October 17, 2018

    Steve, those are the standard videos that NASA or (in this case) ROSCOSMOS prepare probably months before launch, showing what the rocket may look like, so that we have something to look at other than instrument panels and people sitting at desks.  In this case, it shows the rocket continuing on its voyage as if nothing went wrong, still under power, still going up.  ROSCOSMOS took their time before they stopped the prepared video — someone was asleep at the wheel.

    There is nothing that shows the abort.  All we have are the translated voice communications, and I think SOME of the on-screen digital readouts were real (attitude falling rather than increasing).  But I don't know Cyrillic or Russian so that part's a guess.

  10. Steve Taranovich
    October 17, 2018

    @Andy l—Possible

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