Bridenstine space council
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine speaks at a meeting of the National Space Council Oct. 23. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Oct. 23 that he expects the next International Space Station crew to launch on a Soyuz spacecraft in December as an investigation into an aborted launch earlier this month wraps up.

In comments at a meeting of the National Space Council in Washington, Bridenstine expressed confidence that the cause of the failed Oct. 11 launch of the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft was understood, allowing flights to resume.

“NASA is regrouping. We’re replanning and we’re getting ready to go again,” he said at the meeting, most of which was devoted to issues about a proposed Space Force.

A Russian state commission is investigating the failed launch, which suffered a problem about two minutes into the flight that triggered the Soyuz spacecraft’s abort system. Roscosmos, the Russian state space corporation, said Oct. 20 that it had received a preliminary report into the accident, with a final report due on Oct. 30.

Roscosmos did not disclose the contents of that preliminary report, but speculation has centered on a problem with one of the four side boosters that separated around the time of the launch abort. One Russian media report, citing unnamed sources, claimed that the side booster was improperly mounted to the core stage, damaging a mounting lug.

Bridenstine did not discuss any potential causes in his comments at the council meeting, but said that the cause appeared to be known. “We have a really, really good idea of what the issue is. We are getting very close to understanding it even better so we can confidently launch again,” he said.

Bridenstine confirmed that Russia will perform several Soyuz rocket launches before flying a crewed Soyuz spacecraft. That next crewed mission, Soyuz MS-11, will likely take place in December.

“We have a number of Russian Soyuz rocket launches in the next month and a half, and in December we’re fully anticipating putting our crew on a Russian Soyuz rocket to launch to the International Space Station again,” he said.

Bridenstine said that NASA astronaut Nick Hague and his Russian crewmate on Soyuz MS-10, Alexey Ovchinin, were in good health, even if they were displeased about the situation. “While our astronaut and their cosmonaut are home safe, they are not happy,” he said. “They want to be on the International Space Station, and they cannot wait to go again.”

“I hope you will pass along our compliments to astronaut Nick Hague, for being willing to get back on the horse,” Vice President Mike Pence said at the meeting. Bridenstine noted that, while Hague will get another opportunity to fly to the station, he won’t be on the crew launching in December. “I’ll bet he’ll be crowding to the front of the line,” Pence responded.

Bridenstine also used his time at the council meeting to discuss the agency’s work implementing Space Policy Directive 1, which directs NASA to return humans to the moon. He emphasized NASA is developing “a reusable and a sustainable architecture” for lunar exploration, anchored by the Gateway in lunar orbit.

He cited strong international support for those plans, highlighted by the interest he said he saw from potential partners at the International Astronautical Congress in early October in Germany. “When I talked about the United States leading an international effort to get back to the moon, the response was overwhelming and spontaneous,” he said. “People around the world have been waiting for the United States to get back to the moon.”

“People love Space Policy Directive 1,” he said in comments to Pence, “and, sir, it makes my job really easy on the international scene.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...