Rocket is fine?
September 14, 2017 4:34 AM   Subscribe

How Not to Land an Orbital Rocket Booster SpaceX shares bad launching and landing experiences, with a soundtrack. (SLY) (via)
posted by doctornemo (25 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I liked the bit where the rocket exploded.
posted by quinndexter at 4:53 AM on September 14 [8 favorites]

They can laugh at their failures when they now pretty routinely do this.
(By the way, if you get emotional watching the rocket almost make it, this clip is a perfect way for us puny humans to viscerally understand forever that robots have no feelings are fearless.)
posted by hat_eater at 5:08 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

I wonder how much all that cost and how many fireworks I could buy for the same price. The twizzly bit that flew off to the right at 0:59 was fun.
posted by dowcrag at 5:08 AM on September 14

Entropy is such a lonely word.
posted by anastasiav at 5:10 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

The "engine sensor failed" one is also "every other launch in Kerbal Space Program". Yeah, engine sensors. I'll blame it on the engine sensors.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:21 AM on September 14

You know, a lot of these crashes wouldn't have happened if they'd just read the instructions.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:26 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]

After you, Elon.
posted by Optamystic at 5:30 AM on September 14

Most real-world disasters aren't as explodey as action movies would have you believe. But rocket crashes are. Yikes.
posted by Western Infidels at 5:41 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

I've started playing KSP again so this is exactly what I wanted this morning.

(Hello I'm re-learning how steep of a re-entry is too steep)
posted by curious nu at 5:42 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

I'm amazed that anyone can land rockets vertically at all ever, given how long it took to get them going the other way with any degree of reliability. Who was the first to decide to give it a shot?
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:47 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

The Lunar Lander descended to the Moon on rockets.
posted by SPrintF at 5:52 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]

@SprintF Sure, but it was a small capsule with a low centre of gravity in an environment with no atmosphere and a sixth of the gravity of Earth.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 6:05 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]

I was hoping for Yakety Sax, but they still made a good choice for the music.
posted by 445supermag at 6:17 AM on September 14

Musk is definitely more of a Python fan than Benny Hill. (The Larch.)
posted by beowulf573 at 6:21 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]

Despite the text of this post, I think the video was just landings and not launches, which makes it hard to use he requisite "You will not go to space today" quote from XKCD.
posted by radwolf76 at 6:44 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

Cool video. Rockets explode the best.

But the locations... was that what it looked like? Did they start out launching possible fire bombs from parking garages and farms? After the safety reports about Tesla, I'm giving SpaceX some serious side-eye.
posted by zennie at 7:07 AM on September 14

I have to wonder if this video was influenced by this ten year old video of early NASA failures, which seems to be set to a combination of Flight of the Bumblebee and Pomp and Circumstance?
posted by anastasiav at 7:17 AM on September 14

The Lunar Lander descended to the Moon on rockets.
And the only reason it didn't murder astronauts in the attempt is because, although "An uncorrected problem in the rendezvous radar interface stole approximately 13% of the computer's duty cycle, resulting in five program alarms and software restarts. In a less well-known problem, caused by erroneous data, the thrust of the LM's descent engine fluctuated wildly because the throttle control algorithm was only marginally stable," Neil Armstrong was a badass who'd already survived potentially-fatal training on the Flying Bedstead, and he was able to take more manual control, and there was enough fuel margin to succeed at that even with merely best-among-human reflexes.

An efficient landing, without tons of fuel margin, is a different story. Landing has exactly the same "gravity loss" problem as takeoff, and the exact same efficient solution if you're landing vertically: use as much acceleration as possible, as close to the ground as possible. However, on takeoff, if your timing is a little off then that means you launch a little early (which would put you too far ahead in your orbit, requiring some slow careful adjustment later) or you launch a little late (which would put you too far behind in your orbit, requiring similar adjustment).

On landing, "slow careful adjustment" is not an option.

If your timing is a little early, then if you run out of fuel (or if your rocket can't deep throttle, like the Falcon 9 can't), then you end up at zero velocity at too-high-to-fall-from-altitude. See the ABS/Eutelsat booster explosion, at about 1:36 into the video.

If your timing is a little late, then you end up at zero altitude at too-fast-to-survive velocity. At about 1:15 you can see the fireball from the SES-9 booster, which hit hard enough to leave a hole in the drone ship deck. Rockets are surprisingly fragile things, too, because strength means dead weight and too much dead weight means you will not be going to space today, so even a little too much speed on landing means you will not be coming back from space today in one piece. SpaceX actually doesn't have any examples of that close a near-success (the one that landed and fell over actually did land softly enough, but the leg latching mechanism failed). But, you can see a near-failure example at 1:21 - the Thaicom-8 booster hit hard enough to use up the entire "crush core" in one leg, which then bent from the remainder of the force, leaving the booster wobbling and sliding around the deck and apparently almost getting tossed into the ocean. Instead, it's going to be reused as one of the side boosters on the Falcon Heavy demo flight.

Speaking of which,
They can laugh at their failures when they now pretty routinely do this
I fear this may be "managing expectations" as much as laughing at failures. Falcon Heavy turned out to be much harder than they expected, and it may be launching in a few months. The hardest part (side booster separation) is basically impossible to test incrementally without failure destroying the whole launch, and losing SpaceX their chance at a bunch of Air Force contracts, and delaying even Falcon 9 launches for several weeks while they verify that there's no shared underlying failure. The next-hardest part (lighting up 27 engines at once) could even destroy the launch pad if it goes sufficiently wrong, which could be a delay of several months for and a source of ill will from the entire U.S. space industry.

Basically, they've got good reason to want to remind everybody, right now, that even spectacular failures are temporary setbacks and important learning experiences, because there's a small but terrifying chance that their most spectacular failure ever is coming up.
Who was the first to decide to give it a shot?
I think the DC-X may have been the first prototype intended to lead to a VTOL launch vehicle, but it was a very small prototype, it's follow-on funding ("Star Wars") got cut, it got a bit of a reprieve from NASA but then got cut by them (well, replaced by "VentureStar", which then went nowhere after it sucked up one or two billion dollars on composite tank failures) too.

Oh, and that might be another reason for SpaceX to want to manage expectations right now. Their Big F[alcon] Rocket design didn't get anyone to bite on funding, but they're likely to announce a scaled down version in a couple weeks, and that version is likely to still depend on carbon fiber construction for performance. That's probably a good long-term decision, but it's scary. If they're making their biggest gamble ever on the technology that killed VentureStar, and was partly responsible for a Falcon 9 exploding on the pad, and might not be passing all their initial tests, it's probably a good time to remind everyone that they expect some of their initial tests of new technology to fail, and that they have a history of learning from and working past failures.

To hammer that message home, I personally would have focused on Falcon 1 launch failures, which were more of a "if we can't get this to work ASAP the company goes under" risk, rather than Falcon 9 landing failures, which were "if we can't get this to work eventually the company will be less profitable and won't expand as much". On the other hand, giant fireballs are AWESOME, which makes a compelling argument too.

On edit, because apparently I have a mental illness which won't let me stop typing:
Did they start out launching possible fire bombs from parking garages and farms? After the safety reports about Tesla, I'm giving SpaceX some serious side-eye.
The things that look like parking garages are the SpaceX drone ships, in the middle of the ocean, with no humans on board or for miles in any direction. Safe as can be.

The things that look like farms are... yeah, you called it, farms. Their original landing testbed was operated out of a facility (still in use, for rocket tests) about 3 miles southwest of McGregor, Texas. That's actually why it (well, the "F9-R" later version) was blown up in the end - it had a blocked sensor (with no redundancy on the testbed, as opposed to the final vehicle), it started to drift out of its planned flight path, and if you have to choose between "rocket self-destructing in the middle of nowhere" vs "rocket going where it shouldn't with people 3 miles away", you go with "self-destruct".
posted by roystgnr at 7:18 AM on September 14 [16 favorites]

I wonder how much all that cost

The genius of it is that many of those crashes were almost "free" because they already delivered their payload for the commercial customers, who paid standard rates which assume a single use rocket... so basically Elon Musk had a steady stream of $30 mil rockets to play with and blow up before he got the landing right.
posted by xdvesper at 7:26 AM on September 14 [8 favorites]

For fans of explodey rockets - or at least idea of them - I'm going to recommend Why Russia Did Not Put a Man on the Moon - The Secret Soviet Moon Rocket by CuriousDroid.

And again - the footnote concerning the eventual commercial success of the Russian rockets for buyers including the Americans - some learning points that Elon Musk may have noted.

I also like the note that Sousa composed "The Liberty Bell March" to accompany....a backdrop with a picture of the Liberty Bell on it getting lowered. I think he missed a trick in testing too.
posted by rongorongo at 7:31 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

"SpaceX drone ships"

What a time to be alive. Sincerely, as someone who grew up with 70s SF and futurism.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:06 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]

In front of me on my desk I have a twisted piece of metal with a hole in it, to repeat a story I once told here on MeFi, because it is relevant to rocket explosions..

It is from the Vanguard TV-3, the first serious attempt from the US to reach space in response to Sputnik. Yes, that one. The one that blew up so famously on the pad.

My grandfather built the fire suppression system at Cape Canaveral, which seemed to work fine, but engineers being engineers, my grandfather ran out to the launchpad and, with others, gathered pieces of the rocket as souvenirs. He gave one to my dad, who gave it to me.

Fast-forward a couple decades. I have been displaying this rocket piece on my mantle, right over the desk where my (now pregnant) wife sits. I decide to try to find out more about the rocket itself, since the metal is interesting and odd- thin and light. I read some technical manuals and find out that the skin of the Vanguard is made out of something called Mag-Thor alloy. Mag-Thor is magnesium-thorium, which is, of course, radioactive. And it is hanging over my wife's head every day. My pregnant wife's head.

I panic.

Fortunately, at the time I was at MIT, which has a radiation testing lab. I grab the rocket piece, throw it into a metal safe, and run down to the lab. The receptionist reassures me that it isn't a big deal, and that he has "several souvenirs that can only be stored behind several inches of leaded glass." This does not comfort me. They also say that this is not the weirdest thing they tested - they actually looked at tootsie rolls made at the local plant in Cambridge in the 1980s, for fear that it had used Ukrainian chocolate (it hadn't).

After a Geiger countering (which clicks in a way that causes pure suspense), it turns out that I am in the clear. I have not irradiated my wife and unborn child (though she did later develop spider powers for unrelated reasons).

So, rocket explosions are fun, until someone gets irradiated.
posted by blahblahblah at 9:01 AM on September 14 [20 favorites]

I'd be curious of how that souvenir compared to the average camping lantern mantle from before they switched from thorium dioxide to yttrium.
posted by radwolf76 at 2:57 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]

  the Flying Bedstead,

That might be a flying bedstead, but this is the Flying Bedstead.

Video needed Monty Python foot squish at the end.
posted by scruss at 2:20 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]

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