Lightning Is No Match for the Russian Soyuz Rocket

The rocket was struck shortly after takeoff yesterday, but Russian authorities report mission was a success.
Jessica Miley

Not even a bolt of lightning can slow down a Russian Soyuz Rocket. The spacecraft successfully launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome yesterday despite a bolt of lightning hitting the booster as it made its ascent.

Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin captured the moment, sharing the footage of the lightning strike in a video on Twitter. The rocket was not phased by the lightning continuing successfully on its 3.5-hour journey before it dropped off its payload of a Glonass-M navigation satellite.

The Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed the satellite was absolutely unharmed.

"A stable telemetric connection is established and maintained with the spacecraft," an update from the Ministry's communications department said. "The on-board systems of the Glonass-M spacecraft are functioning normally."

Not all lightning comes from storms

Lightning strikes on rockets are rare events as the launch dates are usually timed carefully with clear weather. But it is definitely not the first time it has happened. The Apollo 12 mission which launched on 14 November 1969 is a famous example.

The crewed Saturn V rocket was hit by lightning twice as it took off. The unexpected lightning strike temporarily caused havoc for the astronauts aboard as including instrumentation, displays, telemetry and fuel cells all went offline.

New technology protects rockets 

But Flight controller John Aaron at NASA headquarters and astronaut Alan Bean worked together to get the rocket back on track and towards the moon. Interestingly the lightning wasn’t from unexpected weather conditions but caused by the rocket launch itself.

According to 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," they outline in a report.

Since that scary incident, NASA takes many more precautions against such events including developing technology for flight facilities and rockets to deter strikes. Russian rockets deploy similar technologies so that lightning strikes are unlikely to cause major damage.

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