Antares rocket explodes at the Wallops Flight Facility
October 28, 2014 5:28 PM   Subscribe

An Antares rocket with the Orbital Sciences Corporation Cygnus CRS Orb-3 spacecraft bound for the International Space Station exploded today shortly after liftoff from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Reports are that a first stage engine failed to ignite. Orbital Sciences Corporation has issued a statement about the mishap.
posted by Rob Rockets (69 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well I guess I didn't jump on my cool plan to buy SpaceX stock quite soon enough.
posted by localroger at 5:31 PM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


8:30 pm EST press conference about to start, live on NASA TV..

Watched the streaming broadcast because you can see the launch around a minute in from our driveway. Launch was supposed to be yesterday, but scrubbed because of a boat in the ocean down-launch. So we were ready to watch it tonight, and saw this instead. Bummer.

There's more about OSC, and privatization of space flight, and hopes that this launch vehicle would be carrying personnel in the future, since NASA lacks its own vehicle. Big setback in many ways.
posted by k5.user at 5:32 PM on October 28, 2014


This was posted by chronomitch in the ArsTechnica article about it.
The high failure rate of unmanned rockets is sometimes by design. Many smaller launch companies (think satellites) have an extremely high failure rate. In fact, these companies use the failure rate as a way to gauge how much risk they should be taking. A CEO of one such company told me that they aimed for about 30% failures. More than that meant they were taking too many risks and cutting too many corners. Less than that meant they were spending too much money on safety and redundancy.
I don't know how true it is, or what failure rate Orbital Sciences is going for, but it's an interesting thought.
posted by sbutler at 5:37 PM on October 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:38 PM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


30% is far too high and nobody would do business with a launcher with such a high failure rate. I would maybe believe 3% for unmanned, but even though there aren't humans aboard even mundane satellites cost tens of millions of dollars to build and prep because they have to function perfectly without ever being serviced.
posted by localroger at 5:43 PM on October 28, 2014 [11 favorites]


Damnit Jeb.
posted by nathan_teske at 5:43 PM on October 28, 2014 [13 favorites]


I've been following this on Twitter for the past couple of hours. Someone very helpfully posted a link to a full accounting on Spaceflight Insider of what the rocket was carrying.

I believe this was the first night launch of an Antares, and the third US commercial resupply mission.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 5:47 PM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well I guess I didn't jump on my cool plan to buy SpaceX stock quite soon enough.

If SpaceX had built that rocket it would have reassembled itself in midair after exploding and kept going.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:50 PM on October 28, 2014 [18 favorites]


Neil deGrasse Tyson: ‏@neiltyson "A reminder that space is hard"
posted by Fizz at 5:53 PM on October 28, 2014 [12 favorites]


I believe this was the first night launch of an Antares, and the third US commercial resupply mission.

It would have been the third Antares-based CRS. SpaceX has had an additional four successful CRS missions so far.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:54 PM on October 28, 2014


So using 40 year old refurbished Soviet rocket engines for private space flight isn't the way to go?
posted by thecjm at 6:27 PM on October 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


Maybe they should rename it Soars Gracefully And Uneventfully Away Flight Facility.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:28 PM on October 28, 2014 [13 favorites]


Actually, I'd trust 40-year-old Soviet space hardware over most anything a private group in the US could come up with on their own.
posted by killdevil at 6:31 PM on October 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


Here's a bit of tech.
posted by vapidave at 6:33 PM on October 28, 2014


Cessna cam
posted by thelonius at 6:34 PM on October 28, 2014 [9 favorites]


Purty!
posted by ReeMonster at 6:34 PM on October 28, 2014


"Actually, I'd trust 40-year-old Soviet space hardware over most anything a private group in the US could come up with on their own."

"One of our competitors, Orbital Sciences, has a contract to resupply the International Space Station, and their rocket honestly sounds like the punch line to a joke. It uses Russian rocket engines that were made in the ’60s. I don’t mean their design is from the ’60s—I mean they start with engines that were literally made in the ’60s and, like, packed away in Siberia somewhere."

Elon Musk, Wired Interview, 2012
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:38 PM on October 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


Actually, the Soviet first-stage engines in question are the very same ones developed and built to support the ill-fated N1 moon-shot rocket. Because the Soviets didn't have Wernher Von Braun and his German rocket engineer colleagues to provide them with the tech and the know-how, they weren't able to scale up their rocket engines to the same degree as we were. Their N1 heavy-lift booster had 30 small NK-33 engines in its first stage alone. Inelegant and a clusterfuck of complexity by comparison to the Saturn series we used, the Russians' booster never had a successful launch.

Fascinating that these are the same engines designed to power the N1!
posted by killdevil at 6:44 PM on October 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


The only thing I like better than an exploding rocket is an exploding whale.
posted by bicyclefish at 6:45 PM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is a bummer. My family and I (here in Virginia) were looking east to see the rocket and waited and waited before finally checking the livestream and seeing all that fire. Glad everyone is OK.
posted by 4ster at 6:50 PM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


So using 40 year old refurbished Soviet rocket engines for private space flight isn't the way to go?

That engine has been used successfully on three previous flights. It's not a bad idea, though it's probably riskier than using (some) engines that haven't sat in a warehouse for decades (and I bet insurance policies for Antares payloads are priced accordingly). But it's not a long-term reliability issue for Orbital Sciences: nobody is making more NK-33/AJ-26s, so they have to switch to something new anyway. They have selected but not announced the AJ-26's successor and they're conveniently in the process of merging with a solid rocket motor manufacturer. It's easy to guess what they're likely to do.
posted by ddbeck at 6:51 PM on October 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


. for the plants and animals in and around the Wallops Island & Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuges.
posted by Poldo at 6:54 PM on October 28, 2014 [15 favorites]


One of the things lost in the exposion today was a bunch of Dove satellites from Planet Labs. These are low-cost imaging satellites, to bring Google Maps-style satellite imaging cheapy to more people in real time. Part of the point of this kind of space engineering is you can afford to take a risk and lose some in a launch mishap. Still, it's a real shame.

I wonder if there's private insurance available for these commercial satellites being launched on private commercial rockets?
posted by Nelson at 6:56 PM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


I wonder if there's private insurance available for these commercial satellites being launched on private commercial rockets?

Definitely. Orbcomm filed a $10 million claim with their insurer when SpaceX failed to deliver a satellite to orbit on a Falcon 9 rocket.
posted by ddbeck at 7:06 PM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


We were actually watching this at work today live. Not sure why, since it wasn't a particularly notable launch and we're not in the rocket industry or anything. Pretty spectacular explosion.
posted by miyabo at 7:19 PM on October 28, 2014


If it explodes, you are having a bad problem and you will not go to space today.
posted by yeti at 7:23 PM on October 28, 2014 [26 favorites]


That engine has been used successfully on three previous flights.

(four, actually)

And, performance wise, it's one hell of an engine. Isp in air of 297, TWR of 137. The Merlin 1D in the Falcon 9 has a better TWR (150) but a significant lower specific impulse, 282 in air. US companies never did figure out the staged-combustion oxygen rich combination that the Soviets did, and this engine is the progenitor of the RD-170 series. One of those, the RD-180, is used in the Atlas V.

They have had failures on the test stand, but the point of firing on the test stand was to shake out the bad ones and fly the good ones. They've had 4 successful flights before today's loss -- a test flight, a COTS ISS Demo flight, and then two ISS CRS missions.

This was the first flight of the Antares 130 configuration. This one had the Castor 30XL second stage rather than the Castor 30B of the last two CRS flights. It's unlikely that this change caused the failure, since the second stage was different.

And, finally, I have to point out that while it does seem that we have a catastrophic engine failure, that may not be the root cause. A failing support structure allowing the engine to rotate and hit the other engine would cause a similar explosion, even though the engines themselves were operating fine.
posted by eriko at 7:49 PM on October 28, 2014 [17 favorites]


One of the things lost in the exposion today was a bunch of Dove satellites from Planet Labs.

My opinion of this all morning has been a pretty cynical "ooo wow big kaboom!", but being reminded of this makes me a sad remote sensing scientist.
posted by Jimbob at 8:10 PM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Go 57 or 58 seconds into the video and watch the blocky building on the right. You can see the smoke/vapor from the heat cooking the surface of the building, much like those old nuke test films before the blast wave hits.
posted by NortonDC at 8:41 PM on October 28, 2014


Because the Soviets didn't have Wernher Von Braun and his German rocket engineer colleagues to provide them with the tech and the know-how

You know, the Soviets invented the ICBM and space rockets. When I say the "Soviets" I mean Sergei Korolev who easily stands taller than Wernher Von Braun. But Korolev wasn't Walt Disney-famous, largely anonymous until recently, known only as "The Chief Designer". As for scaling up the Soviets could have done anything, authoratarian states do big science better than Democracy for a while. If Korolev hadn't died in 1966, they likely would have made it to the moon.
posted by stbalbach at 8:54 PM on October 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


"Orb-3" makes me think of the Space Core from Portal 2.

Sorry, Space Core. You've had a bad problem and you will not go to space today.
posted by radwolf76 at 9:40 PM on October 28, 2014


A failing support structure allowing the engine to rotate

When in doubt, add more struts.
posted by bonehead at 10:11 PM on October 28, 2014 [7 favorites]


US companies never did figure out the staged-combustion oxygen rich combination that the Soviets did

Well, that's kind of the question, isn't it? Did they really figure out the oxygen-rich turbine stuff in the 60s, when the engines were built? Orbital thought that they had, but I think someone could be excused for being skeptical, given that the N1 program went zero-for-four in terms of launches. Perhaps for reasons unrelated to the engines, but I'm not sure if anyone can say that with confidence or not. (The program was buried for a couple of decades, after all.)

The fundamental principles of the NK-33 (which involves using oxygen-rich, partially combusted exhaust gases to drive the turbopumps for the engine, and then burn the outflow from the pumps in the engine) are probably sound, and apparently there are a bunch of Western companies working on it today. But the question isn't whether it's a good idea in the abstract, or doable today with 50 years of additional materials science, the question is whether the Soviets really had the problem solved back in the 60s when they built the particular engines that Orbital is using.

It's going to be a hard time for Orbital if it turns out that their surplus engines have a fatal flaw, even if it's only 1 in 10 (each launch vehicle takes 2 engines, so they've successfully flown 8 before today), since they are sitting on a few dozen of them from what I've read, purchased at significant cost (and I'm going to guess out of warranty).

But the alternative -- that it was a problem with some other component or system -- might be worse in the long run, because as others have noted, they were planning on switching to a replacement for the old engines anyway, so discovering an issue with them would only accelerate what they presumably already have been working on. It could be that's not a worst-case at all.

Rocketry is hard. Orbital had a pretty neat solution in using the old rocket motors, and maybe the cost/benefit is still there even if 10% of the engines burn through. It'll be interesting to hear what the root cause turns out to be.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:18 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


> 30% is far too high and nobody would do business with a launcher with such a high failure rate.

I can believe 30% as a target failure rate while in development; too low a failure rate and among other things it can mean you're not testing the equipment hard enough. But it sounds high for missions involving third party payloads. Think what your customers' premiums would be if the insurers knew they had to expect to pay out for nearly 1/3 of their launches.
posted by ardgedee at 2:05 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


While the event is not, this is funny. (Warning: KSP reference)
posted by grajohnt at 4:39 AM on October 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


I've seen people on facebook posting articles that frame this as "NASA, a dumb government agency, wastes money by contracting this company." It's amazing how capable some people are at twisting reality.
posted by lownote at 5:26 AM on October 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


There's more about OSC, and privatization of space flight, and hopes that this launch vehicle would be carrying personnel in the future, since NASA lacks its own vehicle. Big setback in many ways.

Neither the Antares rocket, nor the Cygnus spacecraft were manrated, nor did they have plans to become so. The only US spacecraft intended for that purpose is Space X's Dragon or Boeing's CST-100 (talk about unsexy names)

Otherwise, no worry about supplies to the ISS. A Progress cargo ship is literally getting ready to dock with the station as I type this.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:58 AM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


The fundamental principles of the NK-33 (which involves using oxygen-rich, partially combusted exhaust gases to drive the turbopumps for the engine, and then burn the outflow from the pumps in the engine) are probably sound, and apparently there are a bunch of Western companies working on it today.

There are a bunch of engine *flying* today that used these principals, including the RD-171 on the Zenit, the RD-180 on the Altas V, the RD-191 on the Angara. All of these are Russian built motors

We went a different route -- we went into LH2/LOX rather than RP/LOX, but we still went fuel rich. This wasn't because we couldn't do oxidizer rich, it's because the engines we were building were meant to have firing times reaching several hours over time -- the SSMEs. The RS-68s of the Delta IV don't used stage combustion to make the engine cheaper to produce, but runs oxide rich, using an ablative coating on the nozzle for cooling. It uses the gas generator cycle, which is similar to the Staged Combustion cycle of the SSME/RD-170/NK-33, but instead of piping the turbo pumps exhaust into the main chamber for more thrust, it's simply exhausted.

Really, the reason the Atlas V went with a Russian engine was that they wanted to use RP instead of LH2 in the first stage, and, well, we didn't have any really great RP motors. With the whole "can't import Russian engines" problem, ULA is looking at the BE-4 from Blue Origin, which burns Liquid Methane.

Orbital Sciences is known primarily for solid motors. This fuel thing was new to them. They took a gamble on refurbing old NK-33s as a fast path to a high performance RP engine, and they might have lost that gamble badly.
posted by eriko at 6:12 AM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Sorry, Space Core. You've had a bad problem and you will not go to space today.

That's easy: fire a blue portal at the moon. Get a trebuchet to lob the Space Core through the orange portal on the wall.
posted by MrGuilt at 6:13 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]




I've seen people on facebook posting articles that frame this as "NASA, a dumb government agency, wastes money by contracting this company." It's amazing how capable some people are at twisting reality.

If they're watching Fox, it's perfectly understandable.
posted by longdaysjourney at 7:06 AM on October 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


"One of our competitors, Orbital Sciences, has a contract to resupply the International Space Station, and their rocket honestly sounds like the punch line to a joke. It uses Russian rocket engines that were made in the ’60s. I don’t mean their design is from the ’60s—I mean they start with engines that were literally made in the ’60s and, like, packed away in Siberia somewhere."

Elon Musk, Wired Interview, 2012


Of course, if you point out that Tesla's have a bad habit of catching fire when they are in a crash, Elon Musk will come and find you, and beat you with a cattle prod.
posted by k5.user at 7:15 AM on October 29, 2014


Orbital Sciences' stock dropped 15% today. That's not awful, really, reflects concern but not outright collapse.
posted by Nelson at 7:21 AM on October 29, 2014




The other thing that's galling about the Elon Musk interview is that he went to Russia more than once to go shopping for refurbished ICBMs. There's a good history of refurbishing unused rocket hardware for contemporary use (Orbital Sciences has flown refurbished Minuteman missiles as Minotaur rockets; Russia's equivalent is Dnepr). Only a joke when he's not doing it, I guess.
posted by ddbeck at 7:54 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


When in doubt, add more struts.

To phrase this properly.

Rule 1) MOAR BOOSTERS!

Rule 2) MOAR STRUTS!

Rule 3) If fire stops coming out of the bottom, you will not go to space today.
posted by eriko at 7:57 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Of course, if you point out that Tesla's have a bad habit of catching fire when they are in a crash, Elon Musk will come and find you, and beat you with a cattle prod."

Much, much less often than regular cars. Are you going to complain that Teslas can also break down mechanically as well or that the metal in them might rust?
posted by I-baLL at 8:00 AM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


In smackfu's link, it sounded like people were really panicking as they were getting back to their vehicles.

Can someone explain why people were so worried? Isn't the point of being that far away from the launch pad that you're safe from harm?

that said, i'd be freaking the eff out if i was there
posted by elmer benson at 8:11 AM on October 29, 2014


No, pointing out that Elon Musk talks a lot of smack about competitors or other companies, while viciously and vociferously attacks any critique in defense of his own companies/products.

His truthiness quotient is debatable. The size of his mouth is not.
posted by k5.user at 8:13 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Rule 3) If fire stops coming out of the bottom, you will not go to space today.

That depends. If fire stops coming out of the bottom at the right time, there's still a chance you will go into space today.

It's when fire stops coming out the bottom at an unscheduled time that the problems really start stacking up.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:14 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Can someone explain why people were so worried? Isn't the point of being that far away from the launch pad that you're safe from harm?

I wondered that too. On this other video which seems to be civilians at another location, people seem calmer. You can hear children start screaming after the big noise, but the adults are pretty calm about it - they do get concerned that they should probably get away from the smoke in case there's anything toxic in it.

(that's a Facebook link, I hope it works, I know sometimes those can be wonky but the photographer doesn't seem to have embedded the video elsewhere)
posted by dnash at 8:16 AM on October 29, 2014


This wasn't because we couldn't do oxidizer rich, it's because the engines we were building were meant to have firing times reaching several hours over time -- the SSMEs.

Interestingly, the SSME (Rocketdyne RS-25) has an Isp that is higher than the NK-33 and does so without an oxygen-rich turbine section (it does staged combustion, but uses fuel-rich turbines for both the fuel and oxidizer pump turbines), although it's a physically much larger, heavier engine.

The tradeoff seems to be that to avoid having an oxygen-rich turbine, the RS-25 depends rather heavily on the seal between the turbine side (fuel rich) and pump side (oxidizer rich) side of the oxidizer turbopump. They solve this by continually flooding the shaft seal area with helium, something that is fairly unique as far as I've ever heard (and why each STS launch required a fair bit of liquid helium). I wonder if you were going for an RS-25 variant that wasn't man-rated, if you could dispense with the helium flooding and just have a mechanical seal and live with the risk in order to cut down on weight.

Anyway, it's an interesting tradeoff. The NK-33 design is certainly simpler, but relies more heavily on the underlying metallurgy of the turbine; the RS-25 punts on that and instead does the best you can without having an oxygen-rich turbine. It wouldn't surprise me if the NK-33 design turns out to be the dominant one in the future, but it could still be the case that Orbital's bargain-basement engines have issues, and that the design was just a bit too advanced for even the best metallurgy of the time when they were built.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:27 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


The SSME is liquid hydrogen, not RP, which is why it has a much higher specific impulse. It would be a very lousy LH2 engine that didn't. The whole reason to deal with liquid hydrogen, which is an enormous PITA, is to get the extra specific impulse.

The other problem with LH2 is the very low density compared to RP. This is why the biggest thing on the shuttle was the external tank. Big tanks mean big drag. That's why many boosters use RP in the first stage, where the air is thick and the drag is largest.
posted by eriko at 8:34 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Kadin2048: surely the SSME is bound to have a higher Isp than the NK-33? The former runs on LOX/LH2 whereas the latter runs on LOX/kerosene.
posted by Major Clanger at 8:35 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Can someone explain why people were so worried? Isn't the point of being that far away from the launch pad that you're safe from harm?

You're safe from harm if the rocket explodes on the pad. If the rocket takes off, all bets are off and you are putting your safety in the hands of the Range Safety Officer.

Also the one guy was clearly worried about the shock wave / noise, which is a valid thing to warn people about since there was a good 15 second delay there. The Photon rocket explosion last year had a nasty kick.
posted by smackfu at 8:44 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


You're safe from harm if the rocket explodes on the pad. If the rocket takes off, all bets are off and you are putting your safety in the hands of the Range Safety Officer.

Do they build in a remote detonation capability? "Downrange" doesn't really mean anything specific once you've lost directional control. Can they instigate the kaboom if it's tending toward a populated area and hasn't yet exploded on its own?
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:01 AM on October 29, 2014


[Answered my own question: googling "range safety" returns a variety of links which state that in US launches at least the RSO has that capability.]
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:14 AM on October 29, 2014


When we're hearing the big crack of the explosion in this videos, is that the sound waves bunching into a sonic boom / pressure front?
posted by stinkfoot at 9:38 AM on October 29, 2014


I guess what I'm asking is, do you call that a sonic boom?
posted by stinkfoot at 10:03 AM on October 29, 2014


Actually, Poldo, this occurred in an area south of Chincoteague and the Assateague refuge and I'm fairly certain neither area was affected. The Wallops Island visitor facility is indeed on the Chincoteague road, but the launch area is on a separate island, a distance from the people and ponies. That said, it is concerning that things so dangerously incendiary are being dealt with in such a sensitive area.

Correct me if I'm wrong; my perception was that the rocket exploded as a result of its unplanned return to earth following the failure of the second stage propulsion; rupture of fully-charged fuel tanks would account for the big blast. Accounts suggest that the thing rose and blew up in mid-air which does not seem to be the case. A more accurate version would be "rocket explodes after launch failure."
posted by kinnakeet at 12:45 PM on October 29, 2014


Yes, it's a sonic boom. The explosive forces are traveling much faster than the speed of sound. It's more usual to distinguish a sonic boom from an explosion, however, if only to indicate "that was not an explosion, just something traveling very fast".

You're safe from harm if the rocket explodes on the pad.

Well, theoretically the viewing area is sufficiently far away from any pad explosion, but for example in the Foton M-1 crash (watch particularly the "ESA 2nd team" footage) the viewing area was obviously much closer. It feels like about 2 seconds before the blast wave hits (~4:20) meaning they're probably closer than 1km from where it came down. At Wallops, the press footage shows around 5-6 seconds, meaning they're about 2km from the launch pad.

By comparison, when the Mont Blanc exploded in Halifax Harbor, heavy parts of the guns and anchor landed multiple kilometers from the explosion's locus. While a rough estimate of the potential energy of any explosion can be calculated, the actual force on a given object is going to vary quite a bit based on all sorts of physical factors. It's a matter of risk factors.

kinnakeet, I'm not up to (say) eriko's level of engineering capability, but my view of the timeline here is:
* anomalous rocket behavior immediately upon ignition (the whole conflagration looked wrong to me, I've seen video of roughly a majority of shuttle launches and dozens/scores of other significant rocket launches)
* explosion in mid-air (Orbital Sciences has said a range safety command was sent)
* explosive effects of fuel and everything else exploding on ground impact

In many ways this was a "nominal" rocket explosion, the way one normally expects one to go. It's sort of a rule of thumb that the issue with rockets is that either they go, they don't go, or they go wrong right away. (Challenger was a notable anomaly in this regard, but that was due to the complex interaction of two separate propulsion systems; most rockets are not actually complex in that regard.)
posted by dhartung at 1:11 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Friend: "Hey, what's this metafilter thing?"
Me: "Oh, it's rocket science"
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:23 PM on October 29, 2014




The biggest dangers of being (not very) near a failed launch are generally from the propellants. RP-1 (kerosene) from the first stage isn't great to dump in the water but won't do you much harm. The second stage is solid fuel (basically a re-purposed Peacekeeper missile) and goes burn, burn, burn; not fun but the odds of getting a burning chunk dropped on you are low. The third stage, however, contains monomethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide; it wouldn't take much of the vapor of either of those to make you have a really bad day.

Thankfully, one of the perks of launching a rocket from the east coast is that it's headed out over the ocean and the prevailing winds tend to blow in the same direction.
posted by introp at 2:17 PM on October 29, 2014


monomethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide

I had to do some calculations for how many cubic kilometers of ocean a falling Russian satelite containing MMH (or UDMH, I can't remember---I think I did both to be sure) could poison a couple of years back. It was an impressively large number. In a relatively shallow area like the Grand Banks, complete disintegration could have covered pretty large area, enough to cause a significant fish kill if it happened at the wrong place and time. That was just for the limited maneuvering fuel in a satellite. I shudder to think what an entire booster full could do.

Kerosene and hydrogen are much better fuels in my view, even if they aren't quite as efficient.
posted by bonehead at 2:28 PM on October 29, 2014




Wow, the launchpad is in a lot better shape than I expected. The transporter/erector is still standing. Two of the lightning rods are completely destroyed and there's a lot of damage to the area around the northeast corner of the pad (where the pipes nearest to the water run from the tanks to the pad), but it's not as if they have to build a new launchpad.

The Oribtal CEO hopes to be back in flight in between 3 months to a year.
posted by ddbeck at 5:15 PM on October 30, 2014


Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Crashes During Flight Test. More links in HN thread.

What a horrible week.
posted by oulipian at 11:45 AM on October 31, 2014


Mefi thread about the SpaceshipTwo accident.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:22 AM on November 1, 2014


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