|Flight 1a||Flight 2a||Flight 2b||Flight 2c||Flight 2d||Flight 2e||Flight 3a||Flight 3b|
Flight 2C (crash) report
Every flight, no matter how unsuccessful, offers an opportunity to improve a design.
Video of break-up with ground tracking in WMV format
Slow motion tower video of launch to break-up in MOV format
Half speed tower video of break-up only in MOV format
Astronaut John Shaft
FLIGHT 2C - AMW L1100 RR
Aeronaut, July 31st 2004, the third flight of Season 2 took flight and ended with 70 percent of the rocket damaged beyond repair.
The launch on an AMW L-1100 was picture perfect but just after apogee the entire rocket began a back slide. This wasn’t the first time we had seen that behavior, flights 2a and 2b this season did a similar back slide for a second or two but the capsule decoupling occurred. Concern didn’t really set in until flight 2c had fallen way past apogee and began a vigorous axial spin.
The spin increased to the point that the video tower’s nose cap came free, exposing its parachute. Once fully inflated, the tower parachute (way too small for the 30lb mass of the rocket) pulled the tower off the capsule and along with it the capsule’s nose cap. This exposed the capsule's drogue chute that subsequently extracted the main chute.
When the capsule’s main chute inflated, the stress was too great for the attachment points that held it onto the heat shield (still shear-pinned to the booster) and the upper shell broke free. While the tower and upper capsule shell safely recovered under chute, the Redstone booster became ballistic and drove itself head first into the playa.
Reconstructing exactly what caused the failure is difficult, but one thing is for certain; the ejection charge for decoupling had gone off. This fact allows for 3 basic theories:
Though severely damaged the PVC chamber looked to be intact with no evidence of stress from within. After rebuilding the heat shield / coupler system, I conducted tests of flight 2c’s configuration and in each test the results were a successful separation. This pretty much eliminated theories 1 and 2, leaving theory 3 as the only (offered) likely cause; that the floor of the capsule collapsed when the ejection charges blew, absorbing the pressure that would have otherwise separated the capsule from the booster.
Decoupling is essential for a successful flight, so naturally this area needs significant structural enhancement.
To achieve this, the heat shield section of the capsule has been totally rebuilt (with parts from 2a's capsule) to have a G10 fiberglass cross frame and 5 ounce fiberglass covering the entire base.
Moving the coupling joint outside the curve of the heat shield allows the internal structure to be stronger, continuous and less susceptible to failure.
This new improved heat shield reduces (if not eliminates) the possibility that this failure will reoccur and a shake down flight will be conducted before proceeding to fly this under M power.