Wonderful Engineering

Russian Soyuz Rocket Gets Hit By Lightning Bolt During Take Off

The Russian Soyuz Rocket will not be swayed even by a bolt of lightning. No, this is not just a tagline for publicity. The spacecraft was launched with success from Plesetsk Cosmodrome yesterday despite a bolt of lightning making contact with the booster during its ascent.

Dmitry Rogozin, director of Roscosmos, captured the incident and shared the footage of lightning striking the Soyuz Rocket on Twitter. The Soyuz Rocket did not phase and continued its three and a half hour long journey before dropping its payload off – a Glonass-M navigation satellite.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has confirmed that the satellite was unharmed. According to an update from the Ministry’s communications department, ‘A stable telemetric connection is established and maintained with the spacecraft. The onboard systems of the Glonass-M spacecraft are functioning normally.’

Lightning striking rockets is not a common incident. Why? Because launch dates are set quite carefully, making sure that the weather is clear. However, the lightning striking the Soyuz Rocket is not the first time lightning has been a part of the launch. The Apollo 12 mission that was launched on 14 November 1969 was also subjected to lightning.

The Saturn V rocket was hit twice by lightning during its take off. The lightning strike was unexpected and confused the crew since the instrumentation, fuel cells, telemetry, and displays went offline. However, Flight controller John Aaron at NASA headquarters and astronaut Alan Bean were able to work together and bring the rocket back on track. Surprisingly enough, the lightning was the outcome of the rocket launch itself.

As per NASA, ‘lightning can be triggered by the presence of the long electrical length created by the space vehicle and its exhaust plume in an electric field which would not otherwise have produced natural lightning.’ Ever since the incident, NASA takes a lot of precautions during such incidents. It has also developed technology for deterring such lightning strikes. Russian rockets, including the Soyuz Rocket, also make use of such technologies, thus rendering the lightning strikes harmless.