Author Topic: What failed at T-0 to cause that Fireball and Heavy Black Smoke?  (Read 20696 times)

Offline Steve_the_Deev

  • Regular
  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 138
  • Liked: 2
  • Likes Given: 0
Watching the video you can clearly see the grnd half QD separate as designed from the vehicle but as it does you can see a fluid gushing from the QD!  Most likely there is an internal failure which causes a "no check" failure on the fluid flow.  This "fluid" is spewing wildly into the air from the grnd half T-0 QD.  As the QD (with attached fluid line) is falling away from the vehicle towards the Tower it ignites!  The resulting eruption with a large fireball and heavy black smoke tells me it had to be a large fuel (kerosene) leak.  Black smoke continued but the video's picture followed the rocket and I could not watch the Pad any longer than what was presented, I don't know how long it continued.
Has anyone heard about this failure?  It was barely mentioned when Elon was asked about it at the presser.  I'm waiting for any further news and I'm betting we won't hear a thing about it because it could put a shadow on Elon and NASA's newest baby.

Offline KEdward5

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 809
  • Dallas, TX
  • Liked: 29
  • Likes Given: 107
Referenced lots and lots and lots of times during the live thread. Might of been worth looking at that before posting a new thread with such ovely-dramatic wording, which does not really fit such an experienced engineer like youself? ;)

It was nothing, just a valve on an umbilical failed causing a flash (not a fireball). Elon only mentioned it in passing as it was so minor.

Unless you know something different? Maybe you're on to something where Elon is indifferent about it, but as a NASA guy you'd be very unhappy with it?

Might be interesting to hear about that?
« Last Edit: 12/14/2010 03:03 AM by KEdward5 »

Offline drbobguy

  • Member
  • Posts: 64
  • Liked: 0
  • Likes Given: 0
Well a flash can only be caused by photons due to high temperature atoms having their electrons shifting down an orbital, so it was indeed a fireball.  Maybe minor, maybe major.

Offline sdsds

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 5479
  • "With peace and hope for all mankind."
  • Seattle
  • Liked: 581
  • Likes Given: 677
I think it's basic human nature to be fascinated by the first seconds of rocket launches, as the vehicles slowly begin to climb past the towers.  In part that's due to how the human visual cortex is wired to track accelerating objects; in part it's because at a higher level of cognition we know these lumbering vehicles will soon be literally rocketing through they sky.  Totally separate from that subjective fascination, lift-off is objectively a time of high risk.

As regards the SpaceX COTS Demo 1 launch I think what people are curious about is whether Falcon 9 dodged a bullet, i.e. how close to a disaster were they at T + a few seconds?  My personal assessment is, "Not close."  The disconnect worked, at no point was the vehicle substantially exposed to the flames, and since it departed the pad quickly (for a liquid rocket, at least) the duration of the exposure was short.

For this flight, the pad infrastructure could be an "expended" part of the launch system, and I'm betting whatever fault led to this outcome won't reoccur!  I'm also betting that eventually SpaceX will publicly share their analysis of the event.
-- sdsds --

Offline douglas100

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2177
  • Liked: 226
  • Likes Given: 104
From sdsds:

Quote
For this flight, the pad infrastructure could be an "expended" part of the launch system, and I'm betting whatever fault led to this outcome won't reoccur!  I'm also betting that eventually SpaceX will publicly share their analysis of the event.

I would be more worried about the gripper arm which came off the strongback after the fire.
Douglas Clark

Offline go4mars

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3752
  • Earth
  • Liked: 152
  • Likes Given: 3153
I would be more worried about the gripper arm which came off the strongback after the fire.

They'll probably fix that too.  I doubt they want to replace/rebuild the erector after every launch.  Expect to see a beefier design and/or deeper lean angle.  At the very least, I bet they'll weld on some cross-bracing.
Elasmotherium; hurlyburly Doggerlandic Jentilak steeds insouciantly gallop in viridescent taiga, eluding deluginal Burckle's abyssal excavation.

Offline josh_simonson

  • Veteran
  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 504
  • Liked: 2
  • Likes Given: 0
You can see the arm come off in the video, it happens when the rocket is well clear of the pad when the strongarm was buffeted by the exhaust stream.  It was also after the 'fireball', not concurrent with it.

It isn't unusual for a pad to suffer some damage in a launch.

Offline Lee Jay

  • Elite Veteran
  • Global Moderator
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6683
  • Liked: 982
  • Likes Given: 140
You can see the arm come off in the video, it happens when the rocket is well clear of the pad when the strongarm was buffeted by the exhaust stream.  It was also after the 'fireball', not concurrent with it.

It isn't unusual for a pad to suffer some damage in a launch.

LC39 suffers damage at every launch.

Online ugordan

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 7545
    • My mainly Cassini image gallery
  • Liked: 1755
  • Likes Given: 394
Yes, but LC-39 is a huge pad.

Offline Antares

  • ABO^2
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 5202
  • Done arguing with amateurs
  • Liked: 368
  • Likes Given: 226
Non-sequitur?  What does the size of the pad have to do with it?

Also, is there any confirmation a "gripper arm" is what was seen to be liberated?  Could've just been a duct.
If I like something on NSF, it's probably because I know it to be accurate.  Every once in a while, it's just something I agree with.  Facts generally receive the former.

Offline Pedantic Twit

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 101
  • Liked: 3
  • Likes Given: 0

Offline zaitcev

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 575
    • mee.nu:zaitcev:space
  • Liked: 2
  • Likes Given: 1
LC39 suffers damage at every launch.
Sure, but pad damage is a part of why Shuttle costs 500 to 1000 millions per flight. It is not something desirable for high-rate systems. How can we talk about reusable stages if we cannot build a reusable strongback?

Offline e of pi

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 680
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Liked: 256
  • Likes Given: 344
LC39 suffers damage at every launch.
Sure, but pad damage is a part of why Shuttle costs 500 to 1000 millions per flight. It is not something desirable for high-rate systems. How can we talk about reusable stages if we cannot build a reusable strongback?

We can build a reusable strongback. This one was not designed to fail like this, it's just something happened with the design of this one or the launch events (perhaps the T-0 fire) that lead to an unanticipated failure. I would bet some team at SpaceX is right now reviewing that design and the events of the launch to figure out why it failed with the goal that it won't happen again, just like the T-0 roll of the first flight was fixed for the second. This isn't something that's going to be required every flight.

Online ugordan

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 7545
    • My mainly Cassini image gallery
  • Liked: 1755
  • Likes Given: 394
Non-sequitur?  What does the size of the pad have to do with it?

The fact there are much larger structures on LC-39 pad that get flooded by SRB exhaust and whatnot. More things to break and repair. SpaceX pad is as minimalistic as it gets so one kind of expects the only thing standing after the rocket lifts off could/should be left standing. Cables/pipes being torched I can understand, but losing an important portion of the erector can't be good for pad turnaround and cost.
« Last Edit: 12/15/2010 08:28 AM by ugordan »

Offline Jim

  • Night Gator
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 32440
  • Cape Canaveral Spaceport
  • Liked: 11187
  • Likes Given: 331

We can build a reusable strongback. This one was not designed to fail like this, it's just something happened with the design of this one or the launch events (perhaps the T-0 fire) that lead to an unanticipated failure. I would bet some team at SpaceX is right now reviewing that design and the events of the launch to figure out why it failed with the goal that it won't happen again, just like the T-0 roll of the first flight was fixed for the second. This isn't something that's going to be required every flight.

How do you know?  Maybe the basic concept is flawed and the strongback is too close to the vehicle at launch and will be heavily damaged after each launch.
« Last Edit: 12/15/2010 11:40 AM by Jim »

Online beancounter

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1251
  • Perth, Western Australia
  • Liked: 105
  • Likes Given: 167

We can build a reusable strongback. This one was not designed to fail like this, it's just something happened with the design of this one or the launch events (perhaps the T-0 fire) that lead to an unanticipated failure. I would bet some team at SpaceX is right now reviewing that design and the events of the launch to figure out why it failed with the goal that it won't happen again, just like the T-0 roll of the first flight was fixed for the second. This isn't something that's going to be required every flight.

How do you know?  Maybe the basic concept is flawed and the strongback is too close to the vehicle at launch and will be heavily damaged after each launch.

Until they redesign it.  When you compare it to the F1 set up, they have separate strongback which lays right back out of the way, and a separate utilities tower.  Don't think they'll go for that option however but additional angle to get it further out of the way wouldn't seem to go astray.
Beancounter from DownUnder

Offline JayP

  • Member
  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 788
  • Liked: 2
  • Likes Given: 0
Until they redesign it.  When you compare it to the F1 set up, they have separate strongback which lays right back out of the way, and a separate utilities tower.  Don't think they'll go for that option however but additional angle to get it further out of the way wouldn't seem to go astray.

A steeper angle wolud mean that the umbilicle lines from the tower to the vehicle would have to be longer and would swing thru a longer distance when the released. Who knows, that may make the issue that led to the excess fuel being vented even worse.

The following is just an educated engineering guess with no data behind it besides watching that video, so it's worth exactly what you are paying for it. :)

It looks like the arm just fell streight down at the acceleration of gravity. It wasn't twisting or moving laterally. That suggests to me that it wasn't torn loose by blast or over pressure. I wonder if it is actually a vibration problem? the engine note, could have setup a harmonic in the truss of the tower that amplified and found a week spot in one of the hinges. It could have been a high cycle fatigue failure in one of the turnbuckel connections.

Offline Antares

  • ABO^2
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 5202
  • Done arguing with amateurs
  • Liked: 368
  • Likes Given: 226
Also, is there any confirmation a "gripper arm" is what was seen to be liberated?  Could've just been a duct.
http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=23516.msg669853#msg669853 (picture)
http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=23516.msg669954#msg669954 (video)

http://mediaarchive.ksc.nasa.gov/detail.cfm?mediaid=49739

Precisely my point.  Can you follow the origin of the white thing and prove that it was a large chunk of metal being liberated?
If I like something on NSF, it's probably because I know it to be accurate.  Every once in a while, it's just something I agree with.  Facts generally receive the former.

Offline dmc6960

  • Member
  • Full Member
  • **
  • Posts: 267
  • Liked: 34
  • Likes Given: 2
Watch at full resolution, the high-def mission highlights video from the SpaceX website.  At 22-24 seconds you'll see from the downward-camera view in the upper left; the right side gripper arm fall off.
-Jim

Offline rickyramjet

  • Member
  • Posts: 94
  • Killeen, TX
  • Liked: 58
  • Likes Given: 25
Looking at the launch video I wasn't convinced that the right side arm fell off, I thought it might just be smoke that obscured it.  I looked at the NASA video of the launch.   At t 0:48 there is a good shot of the tower with both arms.  At t 5:57 it appears to be a view from a different camera, but it sure looks like the arm is indeed missing. 

NASA video:  ()
« Last Edit: 12/17/2010 11:14 PM by rickyramjet »

Offline Lars_J

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6161
  • California
  • Liked: 665
  • Likes Given: 195
Yes, that small (relatively speaking) grab arm fell off the strongback, that has been pretty clear for days now.

As one can see here (http://www.spacex.com/assets/img/20090105_strongbackfull.jpg), it is pretty flimsy looking compared to the rest of the strongback. They should be able to make it sturdier in plenty of time for the next launch - 7 months away. (COTS2 is currently set for July 15)

It should not be a big deal. They are learning the ground process details as they are moving along.

Offline MP99

Watch at full resolution, the high-def mission highlights video from the SpaceX website.  At 22-24 seconds you'll see from the downward-camera view in the upper left; the right side gripper arm fall off.

Agreed, seems very clear to me.

Also worth noting that Falcon is pretty much the whole plume height above the lightning towers a this point, so wasn't in any danger (assuming no chance that the arm could have been liberated earlier).


The following is just an educated engineering guess with no data behind it besides watching that video, so it's worth exactly what you are paying for it. :)

It looks like the arm just fell streight down at the acceleration of gravity. It wasn't twisting or moving laterally. That suggests to me that it wasn't torn loose by blast or over pressure. I wonder if it is actually a vibration problem? the engine note, could have setup a harmonic in the truss of the tower that amplified and found a week spot in one of the hinges. It could have been a high cycle fatigue failure in one of the turnbuckel connections.

Well, I don't have an engineering background, but...

Its interesting that the arm comes free just at the point where our view of the strongback is about to be eclipsed by the plume. Suggests to me it was simply blown off by the plume.

cheers, Martin

Offline Nomadd

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3299
  • Boca Chica, Texas
  • Liked: 5561
  • Likes Given: 352
 If they want to handle the problem NASA style, a few dozen pressure/heat sensors going to a simple recorder shouldn't be too much trouble next time. You can get some pretty hard to predict spikes from different fronts reinforcing each other in places.

Offline JayP

  • Member
  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 788
  • Liked: 2
  • Likes Given: 0
Watch at full resolution, the high-def mission highlights video from the SpaceX website.  At 22-24 seconds you'll see from the downward-camera view in the upper left; the right side gripper arm fall off.

Agreed, seems very clear to me.

Also worth noting that Falcon is pretty much the whole plume height above the lightning towers a this point, so wasn't in any danger (assuming no chance that the arm could have been liberated earlier).


The following is just an educated engineering guess with no data behind it besides watching that video, so it's worth exactly what you are paying for it. :)

It looks like the arm just fell streight down at the acceleration of gravity. It wasn't twisting or moving laterally. That suggests to me that it wasn't torn loose by blast or over pressure. I wonder if it is actually a vibration problem? the engine note, could have setup a harmonic in the truss of the tower that amplified and found a week spot in one of the hinges. It could have been a high cycle fatigue failure in one of the turnbuckel connections.

Well, I don't have an engineering background, but...

Its interesting that the arm comes free just at the point where our view of the strongback is about to be eclipsed by the plume. Suggests to me it was simply blown off by the plume.

cheers, Martin

I was talking about the video from across the lagoon. Admitedl  its  low quality, but you can see that the base of the vehicle is about 50 feet above the tops of the lightning tower when the arm begins to fall. It was in the plume for a good 2 seconds by that time. Of course it might of taken that long for the plume effects to actually rip the arm off, but it still looked like a streight fall. I would have expected a latteral component if it was due to blast forces.

Unless SpaceX releases a report (very unlikely) I doubt we'll ever know what happened.

Offline zaitcev

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 575
    • mee.nu:zaitcev:space
  • Liked: 2
  • Likes Given: 1
I prefer to call it "western" or "west side" arm, because right and left depend how you look at it.

Offline Steve_the_Deev

  • Regular
  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 138
  • Liked: 2
  • Likes Given: 0
As an experienced engineer in MPS we never had a QD/Umbilical have a blowing leak and then catch fire.  We tested all our components for just about every failure mode possibility prior to each flt.  (Yes, Manned programs I admit are much tighter than Unmanned.)  So based on my experience the Falcon 9 QD failure is what it is...a Failure. It is not a nothing issue from my perspective.  If I were a Falcon Prop Engr do you think I wouldn't go.. "Oops I wonder what the Hell happened ?"  Of course they did and they know it is a failure.  If I run this through a Failure Modes Effects Analysis (FMEA) the Falcon 9 can have a serious failure maybe loss of mission because of the FMEA mode "QD Failed to sep" and they would have to assign a "loss of vehicle" to the FMEA Tables, that's just how it is.  Or if they have a condition where by the QD has failed internally then gushes externally flooding the side of the rocket with fuel or LOX that could lead to loss of mission in the worst case scenario as well. That is always the worst case result to design to. I have to tell ya'll,  being heavily involved for 2 years non-stop in the Post Challenger MPS redesign all our QDs were scrutinized by my team (me and my NASA counterpart) and the results were presented to NASA LVL 2 and 3.  Any failure mode that was Crit Lvl 1, of which MPS was 90%, reqd massive testing efforts to prove the components would not fail.  So far MPS has never had that type failure although our GOX and GH2 FCVs got scarily close!  So for Shuttle MPS it WAS a big deal in the FMEA analysis for a QD to "fail to check" or "failure due to rupture",  that is where I'm coming from. I am overly conservative for any type leak be it grnd or worse flt components. Yep we had to look at all possibilities and that is why I take the Falcon 9 failed QD as an off nominal event.  I bet the engineer in charge of that component will make sure it doe not happen again. Think about this, the GUCP leak on STS-133 happened BEFORE liftoff and look how much attention it got!! A leak is always a big deal.

Offline zaitcev

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 575
    • mee.nu:zaitcev:space
  • Liked: 2
  • Likes Given: 1
First or second Falcon 1 flight had off-nominal upper stage umbilical disconnects too, that were plainly seen on video. They clearly fixed that up but never mentioned it in any PR. Note that it's only half of the picture anyway. We will never know if Falcon 1 or 9 had any issues with detaching first stage umbilicals though.

Online ugordan

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 7545
    • My mainly Cassini image gallery
  • Liked: 1755
  • Likes Given: 394
First or second Falcon 1 flight had off-nominal upper stage umbilical disconnects too, that were plainly seen on video. They clearly fixed that up but never mentioned it in any PR.

It was clearly mentioned in the post-flight report that listed all the anomalies of the launch.

http://www.spacex.com/F1-DemoFlight2-Flight-Review.pdf
« Last Edit: 12/30/2010 06:12 PM by ugordan »

Offline awatral

  • Member
  • Posts: 28
  • Liked: 0
  • Likes Given: 0

It was clearly mentioned in the post-flight report that listed all the anomalies of the launch.

http://www.spacex.com/F1-DemoFlight2-Flight-Review.pdf


Do you know if SpaceX has released Flight Review document for any other flight?


Online ugordan

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 7545
    • My mainly Cassini image gallery
  • Liked: 1755
  • Likes Given: 394
I'm not aware of any if they did. The closest to a report like this is this AIAA paper on F1 flight 4 which goes into more details on the mission than I've seen elsewhere.

Online ugordan

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 7545
    • My mainly Cassini image gallery
  • Liked: 1755
  • Likes Given: 394
Here's an image I ran across showing the erector, taken about a month after launch:
http://commercialspace.pbworks.com/f/AIAA%20Tour%20to%20SpaceX%20SLC40.jpg

Shows the extent of the charring from the fireball and that the remaining grip arm was removed from the erector.

Offline apace

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 811
  • Liked: 3
  • Likes Given: 1
Here's an image I ran across showing the erector, taken about a month after launch:
http://commercialspace.pbworks.com/f/AIAA%20Tour%20to%20SpaceX%20SLC40.jpg

Shows the extent of the charring from the fireball and that the remaining grip arm was removed from the erector.

Assuming that's a photo of the employees, it is noteworthy that they aren't all kids.  Plenty of old silverbacks in that shot. 

http://www.solarnavigator.net/animal_kingdom/animal_images/gorilla_silverback_zoo_dreamstime.jpg

The photo has a filename of AIAA... so, it's not a photo of SpaceX employees...

Online ugordan

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 7545
    • My mainly Cassini image gallery
  • Liked: 1755
  • Likes Given: 394
It's not a photo of the employees.
http://commercialspace.pbworks.com/w/page/16189410/Past-Front-Pages-and-Headline-News-Items

Possibly the only SpaceX employee in the image is Scott Henderson at far right.
« Last Edit: 01/27/2011 03:52 PM by ugordan »

Offline zaitcev

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 575
    • mee.nu:zaitcev:space
  • Liked: 2
  • Likes Given: 1
Jeff Foust snapped a photo of the strongback raised without the gripper arms. I can understand that they took the arms off in order to repair them, but why raise it then?
http://yfrog.com/h645243368j

Online beancounter

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1251
  • Perth, Western Australia
  • Liked: 105
  • Likes Given: 167
Jeff Foust snapped a photo of the strongback raised without the gripper arms. I can understand that they took the arms off in order to repair them, but why raise it then?
http://yfrog.com/h645243368j

Just a guess but perhaps they've decided that the gripper arms are not the most effective or efficient way of holding the booster upright and are devising an alternative that can be used on both F9 and FH.  SpaceX are pretty hot on standardisation where possible.
Beancounter from DownUnder

Online ugordan

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 7545
    • My mainly Cassini image gallery
  • Liked: 1755
  • Likes Given: 394
I can understand that they took the arms off in order to repair them, but why raise it then?

For some reason, the erector is raised to vertical now and then so this is not that unusual for them. During a pad tour before C1, Scott Henderson said they were doing some tests on it.

Offline edkyle99

  • Expert
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 12940
    • Space Launch Report
  • Liked: 4001
  • Likes Given: 761
Here's an image I ran across showing the erector, taken about a month after launch:
http://commercialspace.pbworks.com/f/AIAA%20Tour%20to%20SpaceX%20SLC40.jpg

Shows the extent of the charring from the fireball and that the remaining grip arm was removed from the erector.

Rather than calling that "charring", I would call that a deposit of products of combustion.  If the paint had been charred or burned severely, the steel beneath would have subsequently oxidized (rusted).  The structure itself, the portion visible, looks to be undamaged. 

 - Ed Kyle 
« Last Edit: 04/30/2011 12:37 AM by edkyle99 »

Offline Cherokee43v6

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 682
  • Garner, NC
  • Liked: 249
  • Likes Given: 107
Jeff Foust snapped a photo of the strongback raised without the gripper arms. I can understand that they took the arms off in order to repair them, but why raise it then?
http://yfrog.com/h645243368j

Wasn't this Friday, the day the stage supposedly had just arrived?  Perhaps that is the 'out of the way position' when taking delivery of large components.
"I didn't open the can of worms...
        ...I just pointed at it and laughed a little too loudly."

Tags: