Beta

Slashdot: News for Nerds

×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

NASA Releases Failure Report On Outback Crash

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the failure-analysis-is-not-an-option dept.

Australia 72

cybrpnk2 writes "In a Friday news release, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center has issued Part 1 and Part 2 of an excellent and very interesting failure review on the April 28 failed balloon launch of the Nuclear Compton Telescope at Alice Springs, Australia. Bottom line: make sure you don't need a gorilla to pull the payload release handle at balloon launch; if the release mechanism does fail then make sure your safety cables are sized for lift loads and a swinging payload, not just static hanging payload weight; and oh yeah — keep people and vehicles out of the downwind flight path. One spectator was nearly crushed while running from his SUV that was hit and flipped (Figure 29, Vol I). At least nobody ordered video evidence destroyed."

cancel ×

72 comments

In Sum (4, Insightful)

Mikkeles (698461) | more than 3 years ago | (#34004384)

Hire a competent engineer to design your balloon!

Re:In Sum (4, Insightful)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 3 years ago | (#34004612)

Well, in fact, it's not that simple. I worked for a time with an engineer who did exactly that - balloons and apparatus for radio astronomy. He often told me of how complex and dangerous this process is. This is hardly the first launch mishap of a radio astronomy balloon, and it won't be the last.

Even with the very best balloon design, the very best tethers and the very best launch protocol, if the wind turns on you unexpectedly, everything can be lost in an instant. This crash wasn't negligence or even direct human error in design or execution, it's just a confluence of things (some foreseeable, some not) that lead to a failure. It happens, especially in experimental work.

I don't know why TFS is contrasting the accident report to a soldier being ordered to delete footage - what does this have to do with the story?. After all, it's not like NASA has a history of erasing important footage or data [wikipedia.org] .

Re:In Sum (4, Insightful)

Chuckstar (799005) | more than 3 years ago | (#34004680)

The report may not use the word "negligence", but if you read it, you'll see they come down pretty hard on the balloon program for not taking the proper precautions to avoid an accident. How that differs from negligence, I have no idea. Here are just a few of the findings that led to that conclusion:

- Suggestions developed from the investigation of a crash in 2002 were ignored.

- NASA's requirement to have a range safety officer independent of the program were ignored.

- A variety of other safety guidelines were ignored.

- Culture in the balloon program was that balloon launches are straightforward and nothing could go wrong, in spite of a history of mishaps.

Re:In Sum (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34004754)

The report may not use the word "negligence", but if you read it, you'll see they come down pretty hard on the balloon program for not taking the proper precautions to avoid an accident. How that differs from negligence, I have no idea. Here are just a few of the findings that led to that conclusion:

- Suggestions developed from the investigation of a crash in 2002 were ignored.

- NASA's requirement to have a range safety officer independent of the program were ignored.

- A variety of other safety guidelines were ignored.

- Culture in the balloon program was that balloon launches are straightforward and nothing could go wrong, in spite of a history of mishaps.

Sounds like a typical government agency to me. As employees of the federal government, they know it won't be their ass personally on the line for any harm done by mishaps. In that sense it's just like the situation with execs of major corporations.

Re:In Sum (2, Funny)

mhelander (1307061) | more than 3 years ago | (#34004778)

Even with the very best balloon design, the very best tethers and the very best launch protocol...

...and the very best gorilla at the payload release handle.

Re:In Sum (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 3 years ago | (#34006540)

Even with the very best balloon design, the very best tethers and the very best launch protocol...

...and the very best gorilla at the payload release handle.

None of those "lowland" gorillas: Mountain or better.

Re:In Sum (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34008678)

Balloons: It's not rocket science.
And the beautiful part is that after wintertime rolls around, the gorillas all simply freeze to death.

Re:In Sum (1)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 3 years ago | (#34017980)

And the very best boy hiding in your attic.

Re:In Sum (1)

Macrat (638047) | more than 3 years ago | (#34008176)

Even with the very best balloon design, the very best tethers and the very best launch protocol, if the wind turns on you unexpectedly, everything can be lost in an instant.

Launch from a silo?

the procedure is ridiculous (1)

r00t (33219) | more than 3 years ago | (#34009314)

If the launch protocol includes "some dude will chase after the balloon with an ungainly hacked-up truck" then something is fucked up. The report never even comments on this!

For extra badness: instead of putting the launch dude in the driver seat and giving him a launch button, you have him standing on a platform that blocks the driver's view. He tries to control the truck by shouting orders to the driver while the truck drives over rough ground. Assuming he doesn't fall out and get run over, he is supposed to yank on a cable when he gets the gut feeling that things are about right.

How about this: Put a cable on the drop-away collar that is just below the filled portion of the balloon, and another on the bottom of the payload. Play out enough of the upper cable to get the balloon to a 45-degree angle. Play out just a bit of the other cable, letting the payload rise 10 to 30 feet up. Signal the collar to cut loose, dropping safely apart from the payload. Let the baloon rise until it is as vertical as the wind will allow. Play out more of the remaining cable as required to avoid a pendulum-style crash. Eliminate tension on the remaining cable (via clutch/brake) to avoid a jolt; the payload will begin rising rapidly. Signal that cable to be cut loose from the payload.

Link? (1)

bcmm (768152) | more than 3 years ago | (#34004416)

So, is the video on the net?

Re:Link? (4, Interesting)

jshackney (99735) | more than 3 years ago | (#34004510)

Re:Link? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34004968)

Wow. Thanks for the video link. Things went bad really fast there. Lucky no one was killed.

Re:Link? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34009792)

Thanks!
Maybe we can also find one for English speakers?

Re:Link? (2, Informative)

CptnSbaitso (800632) | more than 3 years ago | (#34004554)

Here's a local news report with several angles and interviews from three people who were nearly killed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ieyD1FfQOIg [youtube.com]

Re:Link? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34004610)

Re:Link? (1)

Steneub (1070216) | more than 3 years ago | (#34005260)

Here's an Australian newscast: www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcPYwPFZzAc

A few quibbles (4, Insightful)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 3 years ago | (#34004462)

First, an Australian wouldn't call the car involved an SUV, but rather a 4WD (4 wheel drive).

Secondly, it doesn't seem like an amazing story. They saw some spectators were in the way, so they tried to quickly move it all and they had problems doing this. The only real concerns that I had with the operation was lack of direction given to the spectators as to where they should go to stay out of harm's way and the campaign manager not being organised enough to know the emergency services number in Australia. No, it is not 911. It is also not what they said it was in the NASA report "0". It is in fact 000 or 112 if you are using a mobile (cell) phone.

Finally, what is with the trolling in the summary about video evidence being destroyed. That has nothing to do with this story.

Re:A few quibbles (1)

Dexter Herbivore (1322345) | more than 3 years ago | (#34005166)

Wasn't this the incident where the apparatus landed on two old age pensioner's 4WD?

Re:A few quibbles (1)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 3 years ago | (#34005662)

It landed on the 4WD in front of theirs, so they just missed being clobbered by the telescope. But they were a bit shaken by the whole thing. I guess they didn't realize that parking downwind of a balloon launch might be an unwise thing to do.

Re:A few quibbles (2, Interesting)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 3 years ago | (#34006448)

I guess they didn't realize that parking downwind of a balloon launch might be an unwise thing to do

Maybe they though since it was a balloon filled with helium and launched by NASA, it would go up and not sideways so it didn't cross their mind?.

Re:A few quibbles (1)

Raenex (947668) | more than 3 years ago | (#34005252)

First, an Australian wouldn't call the car involved an SUV, but rather a 4WD (4 wheel drive).

Slashdot primarily writes for an American audience.

Secondly, it doesn't seem like an amazing story.

The footage is pretty spectacular, and three people were almost killed.

Finally, what is with the trolling in the summary about video evidence being destroyed. That has nothing to do with this story.

Agreed.

Re:A few quibbles (1)

Smauler (915644) | more than 3 years ago | (#34005964)

Slashdot primarily writes for an American audience.

Slashdot may write primarily for an American audience, but that audience has the intelligence to understand complicated foreign terms like 4WD, right?

Anyway... the 4WD term is ambiguous... there are cars like the Lancer and Impreza that have been 4wd 4-door quick cars for years (Audi started it). Here in the UK we just call any car way too big for it's purpose Chelsea tractors.

Re:A few quibbles (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#34006498)

I am an Australian and I have no problems with the term SUV. Yes, you would normally hear "4WD" here but its not worth the argument really.

Re:A few quibbles (1)

HeadlessNotAHorseman (823040) | more than 3 years ago | (#34007878)

The appropriate terminology is "Toorak Tractor". [wikipedia.org]

Re:A few quibbles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34008318)

Only in Melbourne, it's pretty much unheard of in other parts of Australia.

Though, thanks to Top Gear Australia, many people would know what you're referring to.

Re:A few quibbles (1)

forebees (1641541) | more than 3 years ago | (#34008042)

I think it is worth arguing :)

SUV is such a strange and ambiguous term which doesn't really describe what the vehicles are.

4WD is much clearer and a better description.

This is also a separate issue to the culturally imperialist language...don't even start on 'cookies' to describe ANZAC biscuits.

Re:A few quibbles (1)

Raenex (947668) | more than 3 years ago | (#34011070)

4WD is much clearer and a better description.

No it isn't, because some cars have 4-wheel drive.

This is also a separate issue to the culturally imperialist language...

If the same automobile called a 4WD in Australia would be called an SUV in the United States, then it's not "cultural imperialism" to use the US term when reporting on a US-centric site. By the way, there really were two countries involved in this story. NASA is a United States organization, while the launch took place in Australia.

Re:A few quibbles (1)

Coren22 (1625475) | more than 3 years ago | (#34014488)

4WD is a technology. SUV is sport utility vehicle, a class of vehicle which has two or more rows of seats and is roughly boxlike in the back. 4WD is used on many classes of vehicles, so the more precise term in this instance is SUV.

Re:A few quibbles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34006476)

First, an Australian wouldn't call the car involved an SUV, but rather a 4WD (4 wheel drive).

Possibly, but it's more likely they'd call it a Ute.

Re:A few quibbles (1)

definate (876684) | more than 3 years ago | (#34006658)

No, they wouldn't. Look at it.

It looks like an old style land rover [tietokannat.mil.fi] , though it would be more likely its one of those old style Toyota's. Either way, it'd be called a 4WD.

A ute is totally fucking different. [jalopnik.com]

Re:A few quibbles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34008306)

"an Australian wouldn't call the car involved an SUV"

It's not that uncommon to hear SUV used nowadays. SUV is generally used for vehicles that'll never see dirt, whereas 4WD is always used to refer to proper off-roaders. Call it Americanisation of our culture if you will, but this has been happening for decades.

"It is in fact 000 or 112 if you are using a mobile (cell) phone."

No, it is always 000. 112 is a standard defined in GSM, and is very much considered a secondary number to try only if you can't use 000.

This is mainly because 000 goes straight to the correct operator, whereas 112 has to go via a switchboard and then redirected to 000. But 112 has the advantage that you don't need a sim card or coverage with your network provider (Any network provider will do), and it'll work in many other countries with GSM networks.

What Video Evidence? (4, Insightful)

jshackney (99735) | more than 3 years ago | (#34004490)

Am I the only one who expected the final link of the summary to take me to video of the mishap and not some crap about the Ft. Hood shooting?

Re:What Video Evidence? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34005122)

From TFS: "At least nobody ordered video evidence destroyed." (Something about Ft. Hood shooting)

Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick, how much farther off-topic can you possibly be? Luckily, nobody ordered millions of Jews exterminated, either.

Re:What Video Evidence? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34005358)

From TFS: "At least nobody ordered video evidence destroyed." (Something about Ft. Hood shooting)

Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick, how much farther off-topic can you possibly be? Luckily, nobody ordered millions of Jews exterminated, either.

So you're saying that the world is only 6000 years old and evolution is a fraud? Huh? Is that what you're saying?

Re:What Video Evidence? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34006490)

You must be confused, Jesus' middle name wasn't H. and the Pogo Stick was created long after he died. Jesus H. Christ (pronounced, Hey-sus H. Krist) was a Secrete lover of Hitler when he was young, who we all know went on to do the later part of his sentence because Hey-Sus Left him for a Jewish princess.

Re:What Video Evidence? (1)

cybrpnk2 (579066) | more than 3 years ago | (#34006708)

The point of the final link is that destruction of video evidence critical to an mahor incident investigation DOES happen and as long as we are all learning lessons here from a failure mode report, that's a very timely and important one to add. Concern about "gee, it would be too tough to see on TV and against America's best interest" is totally misplaced IMHO. The guy that took the Ft. Hood video stood up and fought back with the only weapon he had, a cellphone that could record the truth about what really happened for whoever eventually would be assigned to sort through that mess. He volunteered in an instant to become a combat reporter and that makes him a hero, period. Being ordered to destroy evidence of a criminal act was not a lawful order and should have been respectfully refused and the dispuute carried up through the chain of command. Allowing evidence of military criminal actions to be supressed from the oversight of the civilian public [nwsource.com] is not a good idea.

Deleting Video (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34004514)

Wow, way to throw in a totally unrelated remark about the tragic Fort Hood shooting. It doesn't have anything to do with the story, and is just a pointless jab.

But... I was a military investigator, and I will tell you that the military is stupid about preserving evidence. People are trained to take charge and make decisions. This is contrary to what you need with crime scenes, which is preservation of evidence. But ... what the sergeant might have been thinking is that is was inappropriate to the record the shooting or maybe he was worried about it getting on Youtube. Fortunately, I don't think the deletion won't keep anybody from prosecuting the guy (although that won't stop the defense attorney from suggesting that the video might have had the evidence that would exhonerate his client).

But many Slashdot commentors second guess police (and really, everybody), and I can tell you there is no sound legal advice or police procedures advice that can be found on Slashdot. So, get off your horse.

Re:Deleting Video (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34004560)

Wow, way to throw in a totally unrelated remark about the tragic Fort Hood shooting. It doesn't have anything to do with the story, and is just a pointless jab.

Any editor worth the title would have removed that jab. It seems the editors are hoping crap like this will drive more hits. Silly, as it drives more people away than anything else.

Re:Deleting Video (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34004732)

Wow, way to throw in a totally unrelated remark about the tragic Fort Hood shooting. It doesn't have anything to do with the story, and is just a pointless jab.

Any editor worth the title would have removed that jab. It seems the editors are hoping crap like this will drive more hits. Silly, as it drives more people away than anything else.

Well they'd have had to have actually bothered to read that sentence and follow the link. This *is* slashdot you know. The readers can hardly be bothered to follow a link in order to read an article so why should the editor(s) be expected to do it?

Re:Deleting Video (1)

causality (777677) | more than 3 years ago | (#34004948)

But many Slashdot commentors second guess police (and really, everybody), and I can tell you there is no sound legal advice or police procedures advice that can be found on Slashdot. So, get off your horse.

Clearly all concerned citizens who question authority need to get off their high horses. Right?

Re:Deleting Video (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34005170)

Oh, the irony of posting this in a news story intended to second guess an engineering team's balloon launch.

Re:Deleting Video (1)

gd2shoe (747932) | more than 3 years ago | (#34005320)

But many Slashdot commentors second guess police (and really, everybody), and I can tell you there is no sound legal advice or police procedures advice that can be found on Slashdot. So, get off your horse.

The signal to noise ratio is unreasonably low, and anybody who takes Slashdot advice without consulting legal council is an idiot. That said, there is plenty of "sound legal advice [and] police procedures advice that can be found on Slashdot". Need a mounting block [google.com] ?

On the 50th Anniversary of the Nedelin Disaster (4, Informative)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 3 years ago | (#34004540)

and oh yeah — keep people and vehicles out of the downwind flight path

Thankfully no one was seriously injured or killed. It's been fifty years today [physorg.com] since the infamous Nedelin Disaster [wikipedia.org] happened at the Baikonur cosmodrome. It shocks me that as recently as 15 years ago [cnn.com] these sort of catastrophes happened [youtube.com] .

At least nobody ordered video evidence destroyed.

Given the above incidents and their cover-ups, I'd agree. We must study these mistakes, own up to them and learn from them.

Re:On the 50th Anniversary of the Nedelin Disaster (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34005936)

Regarding the Nedelin Disaster, this is a text book example of why politics an science don't play nice together. It seems amazing that we are still repeating the same mistakes 50 years later. Hopefully the private sector will not fall prey to the same mistakes. Shoehornjob

Pork and Beans (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34004596)

Just more evidence NASA has lost its cool. (top engineering talent)

minus 1, TroLl) (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34004684)

When I stood for MAKES ME SICK JUST asshole to others a need to play BSD managed to make about 700 us3rs Of open-source. EFNet, and apply the reaper BSD's deliver. Some of 3ackward and said I'll have offended Nigger Association = 1400 NETBSD company a 2 this mistake or

Maj. Hasan video has what to do with what now? (4, Insightful)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 3 years ago | (#34004692)

Excuse me, but can anyone tell me the significance of the link to the soldier who was ordered to erase the video of Major Hasan's murders? This has what do with NASA now? The video was erased because it wouldn't look good on the evening news to show him shouting 'Allahu akbar' as he killed American soldiers. Or is this just some sort of post-ironic offhand hipster comment that nobody can understand, including the story submitter?

Re:Maj. Hasan video has what to do with what now? (1)

magus_melchior (262681) | more than 3 years ago | (#34005020)

It seems that this is part of the "government can't do anything right" narrative at Slashdot, so the submitter and/or the editor were saying "well, this is a refreshing surprise".

Of course, poor or misleading analysis is nothing new here, sad to say.

Re:Maj. Hasan video has what to do with what now? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34005140)

It's there because no one can mod the summery -1, Troll.

Re:Maj. Hasan video has what to do with what now? (3, Funny)

whoop (194) | more than 3 years ago | (#34005178)

Look here sonny, let me tell ya something bout this here gubmint. They control everything you think, everything you do, everything you think you might do. Everything the gubmint does is to keep this control over the peoples. So, they lie, cheat, hide, and distort the real truth from ya. It's our job here on Slashdot to stick it to the man and make sure the peoples know how things really are. So, when some low-level ossifer in the militry tells some kid to delete a video off his cell phone, it's because the gubmint is hiding the truth from you! That video shows who the real terrists that day were, the gubmint themselfs. Believe it.

The gubmint is one hive organism, from the dude that puts a USDA sticker on your hamburger, to the Bildeburgers themselves, they are all the same. Trust me, I wouldn't lie to ya.

Re:Maj. Hasan video has what to do with what now? (1)

cybrpnk2 (579066) | more than 3 years ago | (#34006728)

My point in including the final link is that destruction of video evidence critical to a major incident investigation DOES happen and as long as we are all learning lessons here from a failure mode report, that's a very timely and important one to add. Concern about "gee, it would be too tough to see on TV and against America's best interest" is totally misplaced IMHO. The guy that took the Ft. Hood video stood up and fought back with the only weapon he had, a cellphone that could record the truth about what really happened for whoever eventually would be assigned to sort through that mess. He volunteered in an instant to become a combat reporter and that makes him a hero, period. Being ordered to destroy evidence of a criminal act was not a lawful order and should have been respectfully refused and the dispuute carried up through the chain of command. Allowing evidence of military criminal actions to be supressed from the oversight of the civilian public [nwsource.com] is not a good idea.

Re:Maj. Hasan video has what to do with what now? (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 3 years ago | (#34008278)

Look guy, "The Narrative" is not that he was a self-radicalized jihadi who decided to kill as many Americans as possible. No, "The Narrative" is that he suffered so much discrimination in the Army that he just HAD to act out somehow.

Stop being ironic and putting throwaway shitty comments in what you write. Just stop.

Re:Maj. Hasan video has what to do with what now? (1)

cybrpnk2 (579066) | more than 3 years ago | (#34010278)

I don't give a flying frack about "The Narrative" as you obviously do. I care about having the facts available to get to The Truth. I still remember that ten seconds of footage from an actual event is more important that ten hours of crap spewed from talking heads on Fox News. It's people that listen to the latter that issue orders to destroy the former. Their priorities (and yours) are mixed up, not mine.

Re:Maj. Hasan video has what to do with what now? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#34008740)

My point in including the final link is that destruction of video evidence critical to a major incident investigation DOES happen and as long as we are all learning lessons here from a failure mode report, that's a very timely and important one to add.

There's a one word rebuttal for this sentiment. "Irrelevant." The launch contractor couldn't suppress such information because there were a bunch of spectators taking pictures (and it'd probably be a felony, if they tried). NASA had no real interest in suppressing the tape. So the moral equivalency with suppressing murder evidence isn't there.

From the ____ dept. (1)

adamdoyle (1665063) | more than 3 years ago | (#34004702)

from the failure-analysis-is-not-an-option dept.

I've got to say, lots of times the "from the ____ dept." things are stupid but this one is actually pretty good.

It's surprising that they expected this to work (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#34005008)

After reading through the whole report, the most surprising thing is the design of the launch mechanism. The basic setup was that the launch was done from a moving crane truck. The truck was equipped with special outrigger wheels, so it could handle some side load without rolling over, and a platform for the "launch director", who was supposed to release the payload by yanking on a strap attached to a cable, pulley, and pin. The launch setup is that the balloon is inflated, allowed to rise, and then the crane truck. which is carrying the payload, tries to get under the balloon, chasing the balloon if necessary. When the payload is in position, the launch director yanks the strap and releases the payload.

This is obviously a setup which is highly dependent on what the wind does during the launch process. Some of the time, the wind is not going to cooperate, and an abort will be required. That's to be expected. But this time, they didn't abort until it was far too late.

During the process of chasing the balloon, the stresses on the restraint system were about 3x higher than at rest. It would have taken a 300 pound pull to release the pin; this was tested after the event. The guy who was supposed to pull the strap, while standing on a moving platform atop the crane truck, wasn't even wearing gloves. There was no backup system for releasing the payload. The payload eventually released when the crane truck reached the airport perimeter fence and had to stop. The wind forces from the balloon were then great enough to tear off a mounting plate on the truck, releasing the payload, which plowed through the fence and wiped out an SUV.

They didn't have an explosive bolt system to release the payload. The launch system used remote controlled pyrotechnics for releasing the balloon's restraining ring, and for the balloon-release abort system, so they already had all the systems and procedures in place for using pyrotechnics. But the main launch function was a guy pulling a strap.

There's clear video of the incident. [youtube.com] This is useful to watch. When the payload tears loose from the crane, the crane truck is facing 90 degrees from the wind direction and stuck at the fence line. The crane boom is under high sideways stress. The abort system should have been triggered when the truck got into that situation, but it wasn't. (An abort prior to release loses the balloon and saves the expensive payload.) But the person with the abort button (the "campaign manager") and the guy trying to pull the release strap (the "launch director") were in different places and not coordinated, so when things went wrong, the abort didn't happen until after the payload had come loose and wiped out the perimeter fence and an SUV.

Re:It's surprising that they expected this to work (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#34006554)

A video that shows a second or two before the payload broke loose [youtube.com] yields more information. It looks like the crane truck was starting a left turn, pulling against the balloon, when the pull from the balloon broke the attachment to the truck. The previous video made it look like the balloon was pulling the crane boom sideways, and the boom snapped back after release. But no. The truck was doing a left turn (they had to do something, they'd reached the perimeter fence) while the balloon pulled it to the right. That's where the big stress came from.

If the plate on the crane holding the cable to the balloon (safety factor 1.3, far too small, as later computed by NASA) hadn't failed, the launch team would have been able to hold the balloon and save the payload. They'd had failed launches before, and knew the truck was heavy enough to hold the balloon. So one can see why they held off on an abort. They might have been able to back the truck out and try the launch again. But their crane rigging wasn't built for sizable side loads.

In retrospect, they should have aborted sooner. The payload is the valuable part; it's normally recovered by parachute. An abort would have saved the payload and lost the balloon. The balloon is a consumable. But, as NASA's critique points out, they didn't have formal abort criteria, and tried an ad-hoc fix to get out of the mess they were in. If the bolts on the crane's attachment plate had been stronger, it would have worked.

Re:It's surprising that they expected this to work (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#34007510)

From Appendix H of the report, I read this:

The NCT payload balloon mission launch took place on 4/28/10. Layout and balloon inflation was nominal. Civilians who were located outside the airport security fense on the public road were instructed to move to another location prior to launch. Launch was nominal, winds (11-13kts) do not at this time appear to have been an issue. Balloon release from the spool was nominal. In the process of releasing the payload from the launch vehicle, the crew chief was unable to release the payload due to friction between the pin and truck plate pressing up against the safety cables. The Crew Chief attempted to catch up with the balloon to relieve the friction, but the launch vehicle became stuck in the dirt. When free, the launch vehicle was unable to catch the balloon for proper release. In an attempt to abort launch, the crew chief noticed personnel outside the fence, and for safety reasons, decided the safest way to abort was by pulling the balloon down to te [sic] ground. During this attempt to abort, the safety cables failed and the NCT payload self released, and then was dragged across the airfield and through the safety fence, impacting an SUV. The payload was substantially damaged.

The first bit that I bolded shows the already mentioned ad hoc nature of the launch process after the failure to release. They had a failure that dumped them outside their comfort zone and an untested way to try to keep going with the launch. The second bolding was, as I see it, a key problem that the safety report misses (it should have been a "proximate cause" for starters). Namely, if you decide to abort a balloon flight, first thing you do is disconnect the payload from the balloon (even if they were reeling in the balloon, the payload should have been disconnected once the decision had been made). Seeing your comment, Animats, that the the person who makes the decision to abort, and the person who actually makes the abort are in different places, it makes sense to me now how that failure occurred.

I hope also the report is itself analyzed. I found it surprising how the report failed to describe accurately and concisely what happened (for example, I couldn't tell from the parts I read or the photos provided with the report, that the crane had driven all the way to the fence in question, those people weren't "in the flight path", the danger was brought to them). That should have been made very clear. I found some of the recommendations to be dubious. It's painfully clear that no sort of cost/benefit was done. In particular, there's probably a good reason that "NPR 8715", range safety regulations, weren't followed, namely, the science mission and its launch provider didn't have the budget to follow those rules. Until, the range safety regulations meet the fiscal needs of projects of this scale, it'll probably continue to not be followed when possible.

In summary, I find the whole accident seems to follow a pattern typical of small NASA projects. First, small, very underfunded mission uses risky launch provider. Then when an accident occurs, a review panel recommends that the provider should follow a variety of regulations and procedures which if implemented, would put the cost of launch out of reach of the NASA mission. End result, the small mission doesn't follow the recommendations because that would mean that it doesn't launch.

Re:It's surprising that they expected this to work (1)

Spikeles (972972) | more than 3 years ago | (#34008028)

I couldn't tell from the parts I read or the photos provided with the report, that the crane had driven all the way to the fence in question, those people weren't "in the flight path", the danger was brought to them

Vol 1 [nasa.gov]
Page 40 - "Key Event 39: At about PET=105 sec, the launch vehicle arrived at the perimeter fence and stopped. The LD realized that the mission would have to be aborted, but because spectators were in the flight path, did not order an abort. After several seconds at the fence, the LD ordered the vehicle to be backed away from the fence. Spectator locations during this event are shown in Figure 21."

Re:It's surprising that they expected this to work (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#34008084)

The key two words there? "Page 40" I appreciate you spending the time to find this, but it remains that the report was poorly designed.

Re:It's surprising that they expected this to work (1)

Spikeles (972972) | more than 3 years ago | (#34008106)

Executive Summary. Page 5

"Subsequently, the launch vehicle was accelerated in an attempt to catch up with the balloon for a second release effort. Upon reaching the airport fence the CSBF team recognized that the mission would have to be terminated and the LD attempted to maneuver the launch vehicle to a safe position after observing that spectators were in harm’s way"

Re:It's surprising that they expected this to work (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#34008680)

Oh well, failed my reading comprehension check. Odd thing was that I was trying to figure out how close the spectators were even to the point of going through all those photographs in the second volume. I read that section (even remember the next sentence), but missed the meat I was looking for.

Re:It's surprising that they expected this to work (1)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 3 years ago | (#34008386)

You've got that right about the small budget affecting the way they do the launch. I work in radio astronomy and some of our people are building a balloon-borne telescope much like the one reported on here. They cobble together bits of this and that that they have lying around, rather than build a completely new instrument. They can't afford to do it the big NASA way, as is done for the billion-dollar space launches. So an occasional failure is going to happen.

Re:It's surprising that they expected this to work (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#34018582)

Seeing your comment, Animats, that the the person who makes the decision to abort, and the person who actually makes the abort are in different places, it makes sense to me now how that failure occurred.

That's part of it. One guy was frantically trying to release the payload and launch, trying to yank on a strap. Coordination was by walkie-talkies, so, since he had his hands full, he probably wasn't on the air. So the guy with the abort button didn't act until it was too late. The range safety mistake was that they had a safe zone within which the launch truck was supposed to stay, but the perimeter wasn't clearly marked. They left that zone without aborting the launch. (Next time, buy a few dozen traffic cones.) From the video, the audience was tiny; there were four or five cars in the viewing area. They were in Alice Springs, after all, at the edge of the Australian outback. It's not like a launch at Canaveral, with a hundred thousand spectators. They had a chance of still launching the balloon. The odds of hitting anything were low. So I can see why they persisted.

The report is mostly bureaucratic blithering. NTSB aviation crash reports are much more coherent. One would expect a transcript of who said what when (you'd think they'd record the walkie talkie traffic.) Also, the NTSB names names; NASA doesn't.

All they really need to fix is 1) bigger bolts on the crane's attachment plate, 2) establish policy that if the launch truck leaves the safety zone, immediately abort and cut the balloon loose, 3) come up with a release mechanism with a design that wasn't borrowed from link-and-pin railroad couplers circa 1870, and 4) get the spectators upwind from the balloon. Identifying the people who designed the attachment plate and the release mechanism, and firing them, wouldn't be a bad idea, either. Those guys flunked basic mechanical engineering.

Is it just me.... (1)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 3 years ago | (#34007488)

Is it just me, or does this accident report seem to point out that NASA is a hugely bloated organization? Pages and pages just of signatures of guys in the chain of command. One Hundred Twenty Seven pages analyzing something about as complicated as a swing set. Seems about ten times as long as it should be.

 

Re:Is it just me.... (1)

Spikeles (972972) | more than 3 years ago | (#34007954)

A swing set doesn't cost $2 million.

Re:Is it just me.... (1)

uninformedLuddite (1334899) | more than 3 years ago | (#34009092)

It's not as much fun as two million dollars either

How to do it properly (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34007960)

MIT professor shows how it should be done [archive.org] (relevant bit begins around 12m45sec).

If you watch a bit more of the video, he does talk a bit about the delicacy of the operation, including the danger posed by the wind.

ABC Catalyst gets the scoop! (1)

MrKaos (858439) | more than 3 years ago | (#34010564)

The excellent (Australian) ABC science program "Catalyst" shot the story of the crash [abc.net.au] as part of the article on the launch. I remember seeing this a few months ago. Very sad to watch but also awe inspiring just how much payload these huge balloons can hoist into the sky. The SUV get walloped pretty badly!

Watch out! (1)

macshome (818789) | more than 3 years ago | (#34014222)

That ballon really wrecked things up.

Straight out of Compton indeed.
Check for New Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...