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NASA Confirms Russian Soyuz Failure Findings

Launch photo for Russian Soyuz rocket carrying Progress 44 cargo ship
A Russian Soyuz rocket launches the unmanned Progress 44 cargo ship from Baikonur Cosmodrome on Aug. 24, 2011 to deliver fresh supplies to the International Space Station. The rocket and spacecraft crashed in eastern Russian just over five minutes after liftoff. (Image credit: RSC Energia)

SAN FRANCISCO — An independent NASA panel reviewing data related to the Aug. 24 failure of the Russian Soyuz rocket transporting cargo to the International Space Station has confirmed that the Russian space agency correctly identified the cause of the problem and is taking appropriate steps to resolve it before the rocket’s next launch scheduled for Oct. 30, said William H. Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, determined that the most likely cause of the failure was contamination in the rocket’s fuel lines or stabilizer valve, which caused low fuel supply to the gas generator, Gerstenmaier told lawmakers Oct. 12 during a hearing of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee’s space and aeronautics panel.

The accident occurred when the robotic Progress 44 cargo spacecraft crashed in Siberia after its Soyuz rocket failed shortly after liftoff. The craft and its 2.9 tons of supplies for the space station were lost. [Photos: Russia's Lost Cargo Ship Progress 44]

"Roscosmos and its contractors have a plan in place to validate engines for the near-term launches including improving quality control, such as adding additional inspectors and video-taping critical actions related to component assembly," Gerstenmaier said.

After meeting with the Russian accident investigation commission and reviewing pertinent data, the independent NASA team affirmed the "conclusions regarding the likely cause of the engine shutdown and corrective actions," Gerstenmaier said. The NASA team will begin sharing its findings with NASA engineers and the aerospace community immediately, he added.

This story was provided by Space News, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.

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Debra Werner

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. Debra is a recipient of the 1989 Gerald Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense. Her SN Commercial Drive newsletter is sent out on Wednesdays.