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Errant thruster firing causes scare on International Space Station

A worrying issue caused the International Space Station to temporarily tilt out of its orbit on the morning of Friday, October 15. The incident occurred due to an errant firing of a spacecraft thruster, as reported by the New York Times.

Although space agencies confirm that the crew was not in any danger, this is the second such incident this year. In July, the thrusters on a newly installed Russian space station module fired unexpectedly, pushing the module out of orientation.

The latest incident occurred when the thruster of a Russian Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft, currently docked with the station, misfired during testing.

In a brief statement, Russian space agency Roscosmos said, “During the Soyuz MS-18 engines testing, the station’s orientation was impacted. As a result, the International Space Station orientation was temporarily changed. The station’s orientation was swiftly recovered due to the actions of the ISS Russian Segment Chief Operating Control Group specialists. The station and the crew are in no danger.”

This happened at 5:13 a.m. ET (2:13 a.m. PT) while Russian astronaut Oleg Novitsky was performing tests. Novitsky is due to return to Earth aboard the Soyuz MS-18 tonight, Saturday, October 16, along with two members of a Russian film crew, actress Yulia Peresild and producer Klim Shipenko. These two have been on the ISS recording footage for a movie, in the first event of its kind on the ISS. The three crew members should depart on Saturday evening at 9:14 p.m. ET (6:14 p.m. PT) as scheduled, entering the Soyuz and undocking from the station’s Nauka module.

In a statement posted to its blog, NASA confirmed that the incident had occurred but also emphasized that the crew were not in danger: “At 5:02 a.m. EDT today, Russian flight controllers conducted a scheduled thruster firing test on the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft that is scheduled to return to Earth Saturday night with three crew members aboard. The thruster firing unexpectedly continued after the end of the test window, resulting in a loss of attitude control for the International Space Station at 5:13 a.m. Within 30 minutes, flight controllers regained attitude control of the space station, which is now in a stable configuration. The crew was awake at the time of the event and was not in any danger.”

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Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
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