Author Topic: The Collapsing Atlas  (Read 11942 times)

Offline Blackstar

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The Collapsing Atlas
« on: 03/16/2009 12:35 pm »
http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1326/1

Not a bang, but a whimper
by Dwayne A. Day
Monday, March 16, 2009

When guys who launch rockets have a bad day it usually means a rocket blowing itself to smithereens—rockets are, after all, tubes filled with high explosives and a hole at one end. If they’re lucky, the debris falls into the ocean. When they’re really lucky, they get enough telemetry, and maybe even some wreckage, to show them what happened with the rocket. How the accident investigators are able to piece together the evidence and determine a cause is a largely untold story. Engineering CSI.

But sometimes rockets go out not with a bang, but a whimper. On rare occasions they fail in unspectacular ways, never even getting off the pad. Nobody really keeps track of these events, but over five decades there have been numerous incidents where something has gone wrong with a rocket—before the fire is lit—and the vehicle is written off as a total loss, or a near-total loss. This is the story of one of those cases, a story that remained largely a mystery until a few years ago. Next week we’ll discuss another case, one that was less spectacular, but far more important.

Offline kevin-rf

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Re: The Collapsing Atlas
« Reply #1 on: 03/16/2009 02:15 pm »
Quote
Think of a full soda can. Set it on the ground and you can probably stand on it. Empty it out, however, and it will collapse under your weight.

That brings back some fond memories as a kid. I remember trying an experiment like that when as a kid I first learned that Atlas was pressure stabilized. It use to be possible to take an empty "undented" soda can and if you where really careful (and steady) stand out it without it buckling. Then the slightest shift of your weight would crush it. Sadly the cans have now become so thin that you stand a good chance of an unopened can buckling under ones weight. Not a bad thing, means less Al is used, and all the follow on positive green things that follow. Just sad I can no longer stand on an empty soda can without it doing what happened in the video.
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Offline Blackstar

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Re: The Collapsing Atlas
« Reply #2 on: 03/16/2009 03:03 pm »
There used to be a time when crushing a beer can against your forehead was a sign of manliness.  Now anybody can do it.

(Note: I do not advise this.)

Offline beb

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Re: The Collapsing Atlas
« Reply #3 on: 03/16/2009 03:27 pm »
There used to be a time when crushing a beer can against your forehead was a sign of manliness.  Now anybody can do it.

(Note: I do not advise this.)

I've dropped full cans of pop from shorts heights and had them pop a leak. They must be making the cans thinner than they used to.  But I still wouldn't try to crush one against my head.

Offline rsnellenberger

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Re: The Collapsing Atlas
« Reply #4 on: 03/16/2009 04:00 pm »
Watched the video, and could only imagine the scene in the blockhouse as the rocket collapsed -- shocked stares, followed by people subtly edging away from the poor schnook who was in charge...

Offline Art LeBrun

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Re: The Collapsing Atlas
« Reply #5 on: 03/16/2009 04:16 pm »
Of course it was not the first time an Atlas had collapsed. This event
occurred in the same month as Blackstar's next article of prelaunch accidents. Atlas 1D was a facilities test missile as USAF tried to get
VAFB ready for the first operational Atlases in 1959.
1958 launch vehicle highlights: Vanguard TV-4 and Atlas 12B

Offline kevin-rf

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Re: The Collapsing Atlas
« Reply #6 on: 03/16/2009 05:01 pm »

Didn't an Atlas on static display at the AF museum collapse back in the 90's? That would most likely count as the last collapse of an Atlas.
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Offline Analyst

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Re: The Collapsing Atlas
« Reply #7 on: 03/16/2009 05:22 pm »
The Atlas originally planned for Mariner 6 did lose pressure at the pad and nearly collapsed. It was damaged and had to repaired at the factory. Mariner 6 used another vehicle (the one planned for Mariner 7).

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Offline Art LeBrun

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Re: The Collapsing Atlas
« Reply #8 on: 03/16/2009 06:02 pm »
Less obvious Atlas collapses were in-flight losses of pressure in the fuel
tank which shared a common bulkhead with the lox tank. Once the pressure dropped low enough the bulkhead would reverse and create
a massive airframe destruction. The fuel tank was underneath the lox
tank and had to have higher pressure to maintain the bulkhead/lox weight and increasing in-flight g loads.
« Last Edit: 03/16/2009 07:45 pm by Art LeBrun »
1958 launch vehicle highlights: Vanguard TV-4 and Atlas 12B

Offline gospacex

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Re: The Collapsing Atlas
« Reply #9 on: 03/16/2009 06:22 pm »
I bet these failures are still better than fiery KABOOM on the pad.

Offline Nick L.

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Re: The Collapsing Atlas
« Reply #10 on: 03/16/2009 08:28 pm »
I bet these failures are still better than fiery KABOOM on the pad.

Still would ruin your day though...
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Offline Art LeBrun

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Re: The Collapsing Atlas
« Reply #11 on: 03/16/2009 11:51 pm »
I bet these failures are still better than fiery KABOOM on the pad.

I think the fiery pad kabooms were more numerous than the collapses.

For Cape Canaveral 5 - For VAFB 5 - for operational sites 4 - I need to get a count for the test stands next. The pad incidents also include just after liftoff where impact was on the pad and non flight tests.
1958 launch vehicle highlights: Vanguard TV-4 and Atlas 12B

Offline WHAP

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Re: The Collapsing Atlas
« Reply #12 on: 03/17/2009 12:17 am »
Less obvious Atlas collapses were in-flight losses of pressure in the fuel
tank which shared a common bulkhead with the lox tank. Once the pressure dropped low enough the bulkhead would reverse and create
a massive airframe destruction. The fuel tank was underneath the lox
tank and had to have higher pressure to maintain the bulkhead/lox weight and increasing in-flight g loads.

Less obvious - and a whole lot less frequent.  Maybe 4 in all (only 1 for certain), and not all due to loss of fuel pressure, if my references are correct.  A common criticism of the Atlas pressure stabilized tanks was that they were a lot more susceptible to conditions like this, but it's not really true.  All of the failures I found were subsystem failures that would probably have resulted in a loss of mission, whether the bulkhead reversed or not.  "Flight control failures" were a lot more common, and continued well past the last potential bulkhead reversal failure.
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Offline Blackstar

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Re: The Collapsing Atlas
« Reply #13 on: 03/17/2009 12:26 am »
I have read--I do not remember where--that rocket designers tended to distrust the balloon tank design and so it was not used again.  However, in actual use, handling and operations were not that problematic and the design had some distinct advantages.  We tend to think of engineers as pursuing logical and ideal solutions, but often they do things because they feel that they are the right things to do, not because the data led them there.
« Last Edit: 03/17/2009 01:07 am by Blackstar »

Offline Art LeBrun

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Re: The Collapsing Atlas
« Reply #14 on: 03/17/2009 12:49 am »
Less obvious Atlas collapses were in-flight losses of pressure in the fuel
tank which shared a common bulkhead with the lox tank. Once the pressure dropped low enough the bulkhead would reverse and create
a massive airframe destruction. The fuel tank was underneath the lox
tank and had to have higher pressure to maintain the bulkhead/lox weight and increasing in-flight g loads.

Less obvious - and a whole lot less frequent.  Maybe 4 in all (only 1 for certain), and not all due to loss of fuel pressure, if my references are correct.  A common criticism of the Atlas pressure stabilized tanks was that they were a lot more susceptible to conditions like this, but it's not really true.  All of the failures I found were subsystem failures that would probably have resulted in a loss of mission, whether the bulkhead reversed or not.  "Flight control failures" were a lot more common, and continued well past the last potential bulkhead reversal failure.

I agree that the reversal was not the cause of loss of vehicle - just that it was a display of the destruction. Atlas seemed to have found all ways to fail (even late in the VAFB operational tests). Reversal candidates were 7D and 5D and maybe 52D. Lox tank overpressurization and fuel tank propellant leaks were also potential causes for bulkhead reversal. Don't know if telemetry was sufficient to record such mechanical events.
« Last Edit: 03/17/2009 12:53 am by Art LeBrun »
1958 launch vehicle highlights: Vanguard TV-4 and Atlas 12B

Offline yinzer

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Re: The Collapsing Atlas
« Reply #15 on: 03/17/2009 12:58 am »
I have read--I do not remember where--that rocket designers tended to distrust the balloon tank design and so it was not used again.  However, in actual use, handling and operations were not that problematic and the design had some distinct advantages.  We tend to think of engineers as pursuing logical and ideal solutions, but often they do things because they feel that they are the right things to do, not because the data led them there.

The NASA Centaur history is full of people expressing discomfort with the design, discomfort that they freely admit is irrational and yet cannot get past.

But I guess this is common in a lot of engineering fields, particularly the ones that are still more art than science.  There are tons of similar examples in large distributed computer systems.
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Offline WHAP

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Re: The Collapsing Atlas
« Reply #16 on: 03/17/2009 01:04 am »
7D is categorized as a bulkhead reversal
5D (I didn't count this one before), 47D, 81D, and 52D were my candidates
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Offline Art LeBrun

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Re: The Collapsing Atlas
« Reply #17 on: 03/17/2009 01:11 am »
I have read--I do not remember where--that rocket designers tended to distrust the balloon tank design and so it was not used again.  However, in actual use, handling and operations were not that problematic and the design had some distinct advantages.  We tend to think of engineers as pursuing logical and ideal solutions, but often they do things because they feel that they are the right things to do, not because the data led them there.

Maybe this scene of unrolling the 30 inch wide s/s rolls created some
concern?
1958 launch vehicle highlights: Vanguard TV-4 and Atlas 12B

Offline Art LeBrun

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Re: The Collapsing Atlas
« Reply #18 on: 03/17/2009 01:24 am »
7D is categorized as a bulkhead reversal
5D (I didn't count this one before), 47D, 81D, and 52D were my candidates

Here is one report for Atlas. Not sure of 47D from report. Note that 50D
and 91D did not have explanation for failures but I think we know from
other reports.
1958 launch vehicle highlights: Vanguard TV-4 and Atlas 12B

Offline edkyle99

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Re: The Collapsing Atlas
« Reply #19 on: 03/17/2009 01:55 am »
What was the tail number of the Atlas discussed in this story?

 - Ed Kyle

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