Russians trace Soyuz rocket failure to bent sensor

Russian investigators say last month’s launch of a Soyuz rocket carrying two spacefliers to the International Space Station went awry because a sensor that was bent during the rocket’s assembly spoiled the separation of one of its boosters.

When the damaged sensor malfunctioned, the booster didn’t separate cleanly from the Soyuz’s core, throwing the rocket off course and forcing an abort sequence just minutes into the Oct. 11 ascent. The Soyuz crew capsule was thrown clear of the rocket and made a parachute-aided descent. Thanks to the escape system, NASA’s Nick Hague and Russia’s Alexey Ovchinin made a safe landing in Kazakhstan.

Space station managers worried that the failure might force an extended suspension of Soyuz flights. But Russia’s Roscosmos space agency said three other spacefliers — NASA’s Anne McClain, Canada’s David Saint-Jacques and Russia’s Oleg Kononenko — would be launched to the station on Dec. 3.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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