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Russian rocket explodes in Kazakhstan
July 2, 2013 7:44 AM   Subscribe

Russian rocket explodes after launch in Kazakhstan.    More photos and video (Russian).

NYTimes: "A cloud of highly toxic orange fumes wafted toward the city of Baikonur in Kazakhstan on Tuesday after an unmanned Russian rocket veered off course and crashed a few seconds after blastoff."
posted by stopgap (46 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
And that's why you don't give refuge to American NSA Infrastructure Analysts.
posted by Auden at 7:51 AM on July 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


They will not be going to space today.
posted by vibrotronica at 7:54 AM on July 2, 2013 [14 favorites]


It was the fourth Proton failure in three years. Rockets have crashed from engineering slip-ups, from manufacturing glitches and command and control failures, their stages and valuable payloads tumbling back to Earth in useless and embarrassing parabolas.

I don't know why, but that strikes me as really good writing.
posted by elmer benson at 7:54 AM on July 2, 2013 [11 favorites]


oopsies.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:56 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


The actual explosion looks like the rocket is getting unzipped from the bottom to the top. This is probably a range-safety triggered explosion to open it up to kill the thrust of an out-of-control rocket so it doesn't go flying off to some populated area.
posted by eye of newt at 7:58 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


useless and embarrassing parabola

I think I found my epitaph!
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 7:58 AM on July 2, 2013 [20 favorites]


Rest in peace, Boris, Ivan and Jebadiah Kermanovitch.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:59 AM on July 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


One more concerning example why NASA should have maintained its own manned space program. One of these days the Russian rocket that blows up is going to have astronauts on it on their way to the ISS.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:00 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


One more concerning example why NASA should have maintained its own manned space program. One of these days the Russian rocket that blows up is going to have astronauts on it on their way to the ISS.

I'm not sure we should be sneering at the Russian safety record too hard. Remember that two of our shuttles did explode/crash, and they did kill our astronauts.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:04 AM on July 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


The most pressing concern was the orange cloud, which owed its coloring to the type of fuel used on the larger stages of the rocket. The fuel, called heptyl, is highly toxic if not burned during the flight.

Protons use a UDMH/N2O4 fuel/oxidiser combination on their lower stages and LOX/RP-1 on their last stage, heptyl is the UDMH.

(I was a little confused because I'd not seen it called heptyl before.)
posted by atrazine at 8:09 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rest in Peace, Edward Snowden...
posted by mctsonic at 8:09 AM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is probably a range-safety triggered explosion…

Russian rockets don't carry range safety explosives. In the event of a failure, a command is sent to shutdown the engines (that didn't appear to happen, or failed to work, in this case) and hope it doesn't land on anything important (which isn't likely, though perhaps more so than a launch over water).
posted by ddbeck at 8:10 AM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was under the impression that the entire reason to have a space program was so that you could blow things up in new & exciting ways with all manner of thrilling fireballs and debris trails.

...and from the video, it looks to me like something went terribly wrong in the lower thrusters pretty soon after launch -- you can see a jet of something darker (fuel?) erupting into the exhaust stream in a fairly uncontrolled manner.
posted by aramaic at 8:11 AM on July 2, 2013


I'm not sure we should be sneering at the Russian safety record too hard.

Indeed not. NASA has a fatality rate four and a half times greater than the cosmonaut program, and Soyuz hasn't had a fatality in over 40 years.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:12 AM on July 2, 2013 [11 favorites]


And now residents are being told to shelter in place as contaminants drift over populated areas.
posted by msbutah at 8:14 AM on July 2, 2013


By "four and a half times greater" I am going by percentage of astronauts killed (4.1% vs 0.9%), which may not be the best metric, I will grant you.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:15 AM on July 2, 2013


it go BOOM!
posted by clavdivs at 8:15 AM on July 2, 2013


which may not be the best metric, I will grant you.

Yeah, all of those ground staff who've been incinerated would probably agree that focusing on the flyboys isn't entirely fair.
posted by aramaic at 8:27 AM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Proton-M rockets use a hydrazine based fuel, which is very toxic all on it's own, and can give off poisonous fumes even when it's burned correctly. The Nedelin misfire was a terrible accident involving the stuff. So, even if nobody died in the explosion, having a hydrazine cloud over Baikonur is a huge risk to the population.
posted by boo_radley at 8:30 AM on July 2, 2013


In Soviet Russia rocket launches……go horribly wrong.
posted by stltony at 8:41 AM on July 2, 2013


Russian rockets don't carry range safety explosives.

That's actually rather shocking. As soon as the rocket starts tipping over I'm expecting it to be destroyed, but nope, makes it all the way to the ground with only the payload coming off and some fire damage.
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:47 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I loves me some big explosions, as long as no one gets hurt. So this is as good a place as any to mention that my all-time favorite rocket launch explosion has got to be the January 1997 Delta 2 rocket explosion. No one was hurt and there wasn't any major damage (as long as you don't consider the $55,000,000 rocket and the $40,000,000 satellite major ...).

But the best part of this explosion isn't actually the explosion! It's the deadpan narration of the controller who was counting down the launch, especially at 0:25 in this video: "... and we have had an anomaly ... we just had an anomaly of the Delta 2 launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral air station ..."

I mean it: I love it. I have nothing but admiration for her ability to maintain composure and professionalism in the face of her goddamned rocket blowing the goddamned hell up. How does she keep it together? That's not an anomaly: that's a full-scale ohmygod fuck up! But she keeps it together 'cos she's a professional. Myself, I'd be yelling like an idiot: "Holy ... whoa!! Oh .... OOOOH! Rocket go boom now!!"

I suppose this is why I'm not a countdown person. But I sure do loves me some big explosions, as long as no one gets hurt. And as long as they're narrated well.
posted by barnacles at 8:48 AM on July 2, 2013 [13 favorites]


Indeed not. NASA has a fatality rate four and a half times greater than the cosmonaut program, and Soyuz hasn't had a fatality in over 40 years.

The interesting aspect here is that the Shuttles launched over twice as many people per single flight as Soyuz could (7 in a Shuttle vs 3 in a Soyuz), so the higher death count isn't surprising.

As to Soyuz's safety record, it's the best in the world for human spaceflight, but going into space if inherently risky, so there will probably be another fatality at some point. The important thing is to recognize those risks and learn from mistakes.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:48 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


According to the announcer's commentary, it was carrying three GLONASS-M birds.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 8:52 AM on July 2, 2013


Perhaps the potassium was of inferior quality.
posted by etherist at 9:00 AM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Hold on, why didn't they get the rocket to blow while it was still in the air? My understanding at least has been that rockets, even manned ones, generally get a self destruct feature in case it ends up pointed at the ground where someone might be.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:20 AM on July 2, 2013


Hold on, why didn't they get the rocket to blow while it was still in the air? My understanding at least has been that rockets, even manned ones, generally get a self destruct feature in case it ends up pointed at the ground where someone might be.

I don't think the Russians have ever used explosive range safety systems, most American rockets have them although the Falcon I launches from Kwajalein used the Russian "just switch it off" method as well.

My guess is that the launch trajectory in Baikonur is such that at any moment there is no risk of an unpowered rocket hitting a populated area.

The Russians have also never used solid fuels on the scale that the US has, solid fueled rockets can't be switched off once lit so they must have destructive range safety systems.
posted by atrazine at 9:35 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Recent article on life in Baikonur: Russian Space Center in Kazakhstan Counts Down Its Days of Glory
posted by homunculus at 10:22 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


barnacles: ...my all-time favorite rocket launch explosion has got to be the January 1997 Delta 2 rocket explosion.

This launch was scheduled for the last day of my trip to space camp as a kid. We were going to watch the launch, but it was too windy and they postponed it until the following day. Still gives me chills to think that I was that close to being in the debris field of such a spectacular explosion.
posted by maximum sensing at 10:25 AM on July 2, 2013


I loves me some big explosions, as long as no one gets hurt

This is my personal favorite: Soyuz Launch Failure

A word to the wise: if the roar of the rocket engines ceases seconds after lift-off, RUN!
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 10:30 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


NASA has a fatality rate four and a half times greater than the cosmonaut program, and Soyuz hasn't had a fatality in over 40 years. posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:12 AM

Eponysterical?
posted by gusandrews at 10:41 AM on July 2, 2013


NASA has a fatality rate four and a half times greater than the cosmonaut program, and Soyuz hasn't had a fatality in over 40 years.

To be fair, Russian manned rockets generally have a way to get some distance between the crew and an upcoming anomaly in the first two minutes, while the Space Shuttle had... er... um...

...damn Nasa and the 'operational' shuttle.
posted by ewan at 11:17 AM on July 2, 2013


"To be fair, Russian manned rockets generally have a way to get some distance between the crew and an upcoming anomaly in the first two minutes, while the Space Shuttle had... er... um..."

i am pretty sure the Soviets only had one abort [a pad abort] in the first 2 minutes of a launch, and this was back in the late 70s.

the reliability of their manned rockets seems to be pretty good. they aren't simply benefitting from a sane Launch Abort System to get that statistical advantage when it comes to not killing their crews.
posted by striatic at 11:31 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


This just sent me off on a wild youtube tangent of rocket launch explosions, next nuclear weapon fireballs..
posted by Captain Chesapeake at 11:34 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Obviously a major malfunction.
posted by 7segment at 11:39 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


striatic: "i am pretty sure the Soviets only had one abort [a pad abort] in the first 2 minutes of a launch, and this was back in the late 70s."

Soyuz 18A was automatically aborted about 300 seconds after launch, after the top stage ignited with the lower stage still attached. At 192km above sea level, the capsule was automatically ejected while pointed downwards, and the entire crew still survived (by the skin of their teeth -- because the capsule ejected upside down, they were subjected to 21gs of acceleration, which is... quite a lot -- to date, they are the only humans to have encountered or survived a rocket accident at high altitude).

Soyuz T-10-1 caught fire and exploded on the pad. The Launch Escape System was manually activated two seconds prior to the explosion. The crew survived, but were very, very angry.*

*According to urban legend, when the Cosmonauts realized that the LES was about to be activated, they quickly destroyed the cockpit's voice recorder, as they didn't want their bosses to hear the rather long string of profanity that they were going to yell as the LES subjected them to 17gs of acceleration.
posted by schmod at 12:14 PM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


This related video that YouTube suggested is interesting. Different launch but the reporter is pretty damn close.
posted by smackfu at 12:19 PM on July 2, 2013


According to urban legend, when the Cosmonauts realized that the LES was about to be activated, they quickly destroyed the cockpit's voice recorder, as they didn't want their bosses to hear the rather long string of profanity that they were going to yell as the LES subjected them to 17gs of acceleration.

Could you even speak at 17gs?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:08 PM on July 2, 2013


I see the Russian space program has been taking some hints from the Kerbal Space Program.
posted by arcolz at 1:46 PM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is what you get when you play with 4th of July fireworks outside the proper, predefined spaces and times!
posted by markkraft at 3:31 PM on July 2, 2013


NASA has a fatality rate four and a half times greater than the cosmonaut program, and Soyuz hasn't had a fatality in over 40 years.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:12 AM
Eponysterical?
posted by gusandrews at 10:41 AM


We're going to let this one go with a warning.
posted by Eponysterical Police at 4:05 PM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


This video from a spectator is amazing. BIG BOOM.
posted by jba at 4:07 PM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile...

SpaceX has announced that they are going to do some pretty loud testing of their rockets, just in time for the 4th. It's speculated that this will most likely a fixed-to-the-ground stage acceptance test in preparation for the Falcon 9-R (The 'R' is for Reusable!) launch of the Canadian CASSIOPE satellite.

SpaceX also outlined plans to test its pad abort system later this year or early next year, which would allow their potentially manned rocket capsules to fire and lift the capsule away from a potential launch emergency.

SpaceX announced a few months ago that the extensive -- and impressive -- reusability testing they've successfully done on the Grasshopper will soon be applied to the Falcon 9-R, and that they will launch their payloads into space, followed by attempted controlled landing tests... at first over the ocean, and then over land.

A future where we get payloads into space at about 1/100th of the cost? Seriously nerd sexy!
posted by markkraft at 4:16 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


This video from a spectator is amazing. BIG BOOM.

Yep, awesome! Kind of reminiscent of this.

Just found this restartable engine test, which is also awesome.
posted by Chuckles at 4:37 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


The talk about the fuel creating a dangerous gas cloud made me think about Charles Stross' A Tall Tail. Worth reading, if you haven't already.
posted by ymgve at 5:19 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Closer vid
posted by smackfu at 12:45 PM on July 3, 2013


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