The Russian space agency announced on Thursday that it was planning to launch three astronauts to the International Space Station on Dec. 3., signaling that it believes the country’s Soyuz spacecraft is safe for travel after an in-flight failure last month.
The Soyuz is the only way for people to get to the space station. In October, two astronauts made a harrowing but safe emergency return after the Soyuz they were riding in suddenly lost control. Thursday’s announcement also heads off a situation that could have left the space station with no crew aboard as early as January.
Roscosmos, the Russian agency, said an investigation has figured out what went wrong during the October failure. A bent pin, part of the system that senses when the four side boosters fall away from the Soyuz’s central core, prevented one of the side boosters from falling away cleanly. The nose of the side booster then hit the central core.
“It resulted in its decompression and, as consequence, the space rocket lost its attitude control,” the investigation committee reported.
The report said the damage to the pin occurred when the side boosters were attached to the rocket at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the launch site.
The emergency escape system was able propel the capsule with the astronauts away from the damaged rocket.
A successful launch next month would avert a sequence of events that could have forced the space station to operate from the ground without any astronauts aboard early next year.
Soyuz capsules are supposed to remain in orbit only about seven months. The one capsule docked now — which is the ride home for the three astronauts currently on the station — has been there since June. Although the station is well stocked, the seven-month limitation means the current crew would likely have to leave in early January.
The astronauts for the December launch are Oleg Kononenko of Russia, Anne McClain of NASA and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency.
Roscosmos also scheduled the launch of a crewless cargo ship, which uses an almost identical Soyuz rocket, for Nov. 16.