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Upside-Down Sensors Caused Proton-M Rocket Crash

Unknown Lamer posted about 9 months ago | from the someone's-getting-fired dept.

Space 323

Michi writes "According to Anatoly Zak, the crash of the Russion Proton rocket on 1 July was apparently caused by several angular velocity sensors having been installed upside down. From the source: 'Each of those sensors had an arrow that was supposed to point toward the top of the vehicle, however multiple sensors on the failed rocket were pointing downward instead.' It seems amazing that something as fundamental as this was not caught during quality control. Even more amazing is that the design of the sensors permits them to be installed in the wrong orientation in the first place. Even the simplest of mechanical interlocks (such as a notch at one end that must be matched with a corresponding projection) could have prevented the accident." A review of the quality control procedures used by the contractors responsible is underway.

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323 comments

The quality conrol problems... (2, Insightful)

He Who Has No Name (768306) | about 9 months ago | (#44238559)

...aren't so amazing when you look at the track record of Russian manufacturing.

Re:The quality conrol problems... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44238641)

Actually, the Russians can make quality products, provided they are paid what they are owed and on time.

Re:The quality conrol problems... (1)

SoldierII (2785237) | about 9 months ago | (#44238667)

Actually, the Russians can make quality products, provided they are paid what they are owed and on time.

I bet there was some "extra payment" that was not paid... and whoops, you know things happen...

Re:The quality conrol problems... (1)

ackthpt (218170) | about 9 months ago | (#44239227)

Actually, the Russians can make quality products, provided they are paid what they are owed and on time.

I bet there was some "extra payment" that was not paid... and whoops, you know things happen...

That may be, but consider this - do you want to

  • Appear on Putin's Naughty List
  • Be elevated to the top of Putin's Naughty List

It won't be a lump of coal he will be bringing.

Re:The quality conrol problems... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44238653)

But don't commies do everything better than the US? Isn't that why we off-shored everything including mom?

Re:The quality conrol problems... (3, Insightful)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 9 months ago | (#44239269)

There's a difference between true communism [wikipedia.org] and corrupt, dictatorial regimes.

For those too lazy to click on the link:

Communism (from Latin communis - common, universal) is a revolutionary socialist movement to create a classless, moneyless and stateless social order structured upon common ownership of the means of production, as well as a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of this social order.

A perfect example of true communism applied to a specific field would be open-source software.
A perfect example of corruption (on the capitalism side, too) would be Microsoft, threatening computer manufacturers about increasing the cost of Windows if they offered Linux options.

Re:The quality conrol problems... (3, Insightful)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 9 months ago | (#44239601)

Communism (n) - an unattainable standard that is constantly held up as a model of perfection despite having no functional real world example past or present. Related entries: No True Scotsman; Ivory Tower Intellectualism.

Re:The quality conrol problems... (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44238789)

Quality Control in Russia basically consists of hitting it with a mallet, and if it doesn't fall apart on impact, it passes.

Re:The quality conrol problems... (5, Informative)

PetiePooo (606423) | about 9 months ago | (#44238897)

...aren't so amazing when you look at the track record of Russian manufacturing.

Before we Americans point too many fingers, let's not forget NASA is not immune to similar mistakes. [wikipedia.org]

Re:The quality conrol problems... (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 9 months ago | (#44239251)

My favorite part of that one was the crash was investigated by the MIB - Mishap Invetigation Board and definitely not Men in Black.

Re:The quality conrol problems... (1)

Joiseybill (788712) | about 9 months ago | (#44239721)

Probably outsourced to WalMart, anyhow. Even a communist space agency has a budget, and why not use OTS spare parts from one of the American Government's largest suppliers?

http://www.theonion.com/articles/walmart-wants-republican-president,15517/ [theonion.com] http://www.theonion.com/articles/dhs-teams-up-with-walmart,18722/ [theonion.com]

OR ( inclusive or) : over-educated engineers assumed the arrows were the spin state of the subatomic detectors inside. A quasi-random distribution of Up and Down would be required to determine the quantum state of orientation. http://news.phy.duke.edu/2012/02/spinning-quarks-yield-clues-to-orbital-motion/ [duke.edu]

Re:The quality conrol problems... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44239081)

Do you actually know what you're talking about? Their manufacturing is excellent in many ways. For example, they are one of three countries (Russia, US, China) in the world that can smelt titanium.

Re:The quality conrol problems... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44239413)

Do you actually know what you're talking about? Their manufacturing is excellent in many ways. For example, they are one of three countries (Russia, US, China) in the world that can smelt titanium.

Do you? Because that's simply not true.

There are many Titanium smelters around the world. Just one of our mining clients has one in Canada and in South Africa, and there are many more mining companies mining titanium.

Re:The quality conrol problems... (1)

Steve_Ussler (2941703) | about 9 months ago | (#44239185)

Not just manufacturingtheir Sukhoi jet had a major crash.

Re:The quality conrol problems... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44239535)

Google just had an outage. Therefore don't buy coffee in America.

Re:The quality conrol problems... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44239731)

Yes, the track record of beating you in almost every milestone and scaring you so much you spent half your GDP on "defense" for decades.

How's American "manufacturing" these days? Real estate bubbles, movies, financial scams, yeah?

oooh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44238563)

blow up moose and squirrel....

sounds like some engineers are going to be working the siberian salt mines.

In Soviet Russia (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44238573)

Upside down is not always wrong.

vodka and work don't mix (4, Interesting)

alen (225700) | about 9 months ago | (#44238589)

being from there i bet half the people working on this came to work drunk and/or hung over most days

Re:vodka and work don't mix (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44239741)

In rocketry - coming to work drunk? You've got to be shitting me!!!

QA is not the problem (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44238599)

Murphy's Law is still in effect. Like the snippet says make sure that they can only be installed one way mechanically, because you won't catch 100% of the errors in QA.

Re:QA is not the problem (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about 9 months ago | (#44238625)

What stops the key from being installed wrongly?

Re:QA is not the problem (1)

war4peace (1628283) | about 9 months ago | (#44238691)

Theoretically, any geometric irregularity. Take SIM cards or SD Cards, for example. Put a notch somewhere and bang, you can't mount it in any other position.

Re:QA is not the problem (3, Interesting)

oobayly (1056050) | about 9 months ago | (#44238759)

Never underestimate the ingenuity that people are capable of in order to install something wrong. Somebody in our office forced (yes, forced) a Xerox Phaser ink block in the the slot the wrong way round. The thing is basically a shape sorter that a toddler is capable of understanding.

Re:QA is not the problem (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44238815)

there is a job waiting for them in the space optics division of Perkin-Elmer

Re:QA is not the problem (4, Insightful)

jrumney (197329) | about 9 months ago | (#44238875)

The greatest pleasure my toddler ever got from his shape sorter was when he discovered that the 3 could be forced through the hole for the C. Never underestimate the satisfaction a disgruntled office worker gets from jamming the ink block into the printer the wrong way around.

Re:QA is not the problem (5, Interesting)

KiloByte (825081) | about 9 months ago | (#44239077)

An old joke:

A militia (communist police) station has been ordered to conduct an intelligence test. It consisted of a board with three holes: a circle, a triangle and a square, and three corresponding blocks. The next days, the commandant announces: I'm very proud of our station: all of you passed the test! 5% have shown exceptional intelligence, 95% exceptional strength!

Re:QA is not the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44238963)

Quote: Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.

Corollary: Never underestimate the power of one stupid person.

Re:QA is not the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44239397)

Already saw that while I was working at Staples Canada, one of our employee put the black in the yellow hole, and the block wasn't broken at all. I also saw a woman that put a PCI WiFi card in the wrong way in her computer, she removed the shield to put with the antenna inside. Human can be really dumb sometime. ;)

Re:QA is not the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44239463)

I've put a printer cable (male 25 pin D) into a game port (female 15 pin D).
A couple of pins were bent, and a faint smell of burning plastic and solder started when I turned on the computer, but they fitted.

You know how this happens when you have to reach around the back of the computer, in the dark, if something almost fit, just use a bit more force until it does.

captcia: pressure

Re:QA is not the problem (4, Funny)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 9 months ago | (#44239633)

Ive seen RAM modules installed backwards. "Wait!", you say, "Isnt there a notch which prevents that?" Well, yes, there WAS a notch...

Re:QA is not the problem (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about 9 months ago | (#44239143)

That works if it's a solid item that you can mold like that - but if it were sheets of metal, you could bolt it on wrongly etc. Granted it would certainly reduce the chances...

Behavior shaping constraints (1)

sjbe (173966) | about 9 months ago | (#44239647)

What stops the key from being installed wrongly?

The design of the key and the tooling and processes used to produce it. Speaking generally you use behavior shaping constraints [wikipedia.org] which prevent incorrect assembly. Proper design, interlocks, jigs and fixtures, automated tooling, and lots of other tools are used to eliminate mistakes.

Anything that relies on visual inspection by a human WILL eventually have an error. My company makes wire harnesses and every time we are forced to rely on a visual inspection process there inevitably are some errors. Most of the time the need for these visual inspection can be done away with with product design and in some cases some tooling. However many engineers can't be bothered to design for assembly [wikipedia.org] or the cost of the mistake proofing is not justified by cost of an error.

Re:QA is not the problem (5, Insightful)

jeffmeden (135043) | about 9 months ago | (#44238655)

What seems more amazing is that a simple software check pre-launch (i.e. "do all the sensors think they are pointed up?") was not part of the SOP. Given that their exact function is orientation detection, skipping the opportunity for self-test via that function is somewhat baffling.

Obligatory: It's not rocket science!

Re:QA is not the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44238915)

How does a velocity sensor know position?

Re:QA is not the problem (1)

oGMo (379) | about 9 months ago | (#44239213)

If nothing else, in addition to the mechanical interlock, you could have an electronic one that says "hey, I'm plugged in right!" or not.

Re:QA is not the problem (0)

jeffmeden (135043) | about 9 months ago | (#44239253)

How does a velocity sensor know position?

Gravity is synonymous with velocity change, so if you are relatively motionless wrt the earth's surface, a sensor will register 9.8m/s/s "up" (if it is oriented the right way).

Re:QA is not the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44239563)

It says angular velocity sensor, not linear acceleration sensor.

Re:QA is not the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44239329)

Gravity is just acceleration in the down direction. These sensors where measuring acceleration right?

If these sensors where measuring changes in acceleration, then it seems like the software could fairly easily determine what direction they where pointed the instant the craft started to move and adjusted accordingly. At the very least, a simple test could be devised to "verify" everything is mounted properly before flight.

My guess is that somebody with a QA stamp didn't actually perform the required tests... Who'd think the Russians suffer from that too?

Re:QA is not the problem (1)

EmperorArthur (1113223) | about 9 months ago | (#44239427)

Gravity.

Since these things are really accellerometers,either the sensor or the computer needs to ajust for local gravity to give accurate velocity measurements.

In this case, the reading should have been around -9.8m/s2 * 2 = -19.6m/s2 when the rocket was sitting on the pad.

Re:QA is not the problem (4, Insightful)

Athanasius (306480) | about 9 months ago | (#44239015)

My reading of 'angular velocity sensor' is that they're meant to sense rotation. If you're sat stationary on the pad there is no such rotation and thus you'll get a 'correct' zero reading. You'd have to perform such a test during some known movements of the rocket (part).

Re:QA is not the problem (5, Informative)

Baloroth (2370816) | about 9 months ago | (#44239041)

What seems more amazing is that a simple software check pre-launch (i.e. "do all the sensors think they are pointed up?") was not part of the SOP. Given that their exact function is orientation detection, skipping the opportunity for self-test via that function is somewhat baffling.

Obligatory: It's not rocket science!

The sensors in question were for angular velocity. Given that pre-launch the craft doesn't have any (peculiar) angular velocity, the sensors would return the correct results (zero) no matter how they were installed.

Re:QA is not the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44239059)

they are angular velocity sensors, so they probably all say "zero" when the rocket is not moving. Once it's moving, you can't adjust the sensors without another rocket and really good timing.

Re:QA is not the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44239069)

What seems more amazing is that a simple software check pre-launch (i.e. "do all the sensors think they are pointed up?") was not part of the SOP. Given that their exact function is orientation detection, skipping the opportunity for self-test via that function is somewhat baffling.

Obligatory: It's not rocket science!

Another fucking armchair rocket scientist. I don't get why everyone thinks there so much smarter than the experts. You're not. These were angular velocity sensors. Please explain how they can self test without spinning the whole fucking rocket?

Re:QA is not the problem (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 9 months ago | (#44239313)

Spin the part they are installed in, before the rocket is assembled. Sure you have to spin one sub assembly, but at least not the whole thing.

Re:QA is not the problem (1)

VitaminB52 (550802) | about 9 months ago | (#44239123)

What seems more amazing is that a simple software check pre-launch (i.e. "do all the sensors think they are pointed up?") was not part of the SOP. Given that their exact function is orientation detection, skipping the opportunity for self-test via that function is somewhat baffling.

No - the sensors were 'angular velocity sensors'. They do not measure orientation but change of orientation. Is a bit more difficult to check pre-launch than an orientation sensor.

Re:QA is not the problem (1)

Deadstick (535032) | about 9 months ago | (#44239151)

Given that their exact function is orientation detection

Except that it's no such thing. An angular velocity sensor senses, well, angular velocity. That means speed of rotation. A broken clock is right twice a day, and a stationary angular velocity sensor is right all the time.

Re:QA is not the problem (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 9 months ago | (#44239461)

They are angular velocity sensors. At launch, their angular velocity is 0. Although there probably should be a check pre-launch to determine if all the sensors are indeed facing the correct way, or better yet, make it impossible to install them upside down.

Re:QA is not the problem (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44238663)

Exactly. QA is not the answer to all the problems - the work needs to be done correctly to start with. QA is kind of a last chance opportunity to catch mistakes, but nothing is 100%. The place I work loves to hire cheap, unskilled labor to do the work and rely on QA to fix everything up. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Re:QA is not the problem (5, Informative)

TheCarp (96830) | about 9 months ago | (#44238889)

Amusingly, when someone actually attempted to track down who murphy was, and where the law came from.... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murphys_law [wikipedia.org]

Edward Murphy proposed using electronic strain gauges attached to the restraining clamps of Stapp's harness to measure the force exerted on them by his rapid deceleration. Murphy was engaged in supporting similar research using high speed centrifuges to generate g-forces. Murphy's assistant wired the harness, and a trial was run using a chimpanzee.

The sensors provided a zero reading; however, it became apparent that they had been installed incorrectly, with each sensor wired backwards. It was at this point that a disgusted Murphy made his pronouncement

So this is potentially, very much related to the original usage.

Re:QA is not the problem (1)

Bartles (1198017) | about 9 months ago | (#44239491)

The mechanical interlock is not the solution here. Two letters on or next to the arrow is. An indicating arrow without a prescribed orientation is useless. Cardboard box manufacturers know this. UP.

Redesign is not the solution (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | about 9 months ago | (#44239745)

Even the simplest of mechanical interlocks (such as a notch at one end that must be matched with a corresponding projection)

This only moves the problem, it doesn't fix it. There is now the possibility for the sensors to be installed correctly into mechanical interlocks that were themselves installed upside down

(The Real) Murphy's Law strikes again! (2)

Oloryn (3236) | about 9 months ago | (#44238615)

Wasn't something like this responsible for the formulation of Murphy's law?

Re:(The Real) Murphy's Law strikes again! (5, Interesting)

MickLinux (579158) | about 9 months ago | (#44238877)

Yes, the real, original Murphy's law apparently came from Col. Stapp, who was testing rocket sleds for the rocket program.

I should note that the putative original Murphy's Law reads, "If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, then someone will do it." [murphyslaws.net] . The website goes on to say "This is a principle of defensive design, cited here because it is usually given in mutant forms less descriptive of the challenges of design for lusers. For example, you don't make a two-pin plug symmetrical and then label it `THIS WAY UP'; if it matters which way it is plugged in, then you make the design asymmetrical."

Highly appropriate to the topic, I might say. If only they had labeled, with the arrow, the words "up", and put another arrow down, with the letters "dn" for "down", then none of this would have happened.

For those who wish to nit-pick my attention to detail and editing, also, I will for further irony include the wikipedia link, as well: http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Muphry%27s_law [wikipedia.org]

Re:(The Real) Murphy's Law strikes again! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44239327)

If only they had labeled, with the arrow, the words "up", and put another arrow down, with the letters "dn" for "down", then none of this would have happened.

For those who wish to nit-pick my attention to detail and editing, also, I will for further irony include the wikipedia link, as well: http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Muphry%27s_law [wikipedia.org]

Very funny, this actually happened to me. The plumber on our new house installed our fancy, stupidly expensive shower valve upside down, with the pipes wrapped around the valve to get them from top to bottom and to the opposite side. When I said "what the hell", he pointed to the arrow pointing down and the letters dn, "the arrow is supposed to point down". He "fixed" it by wrapping the pipes an additional half turn around the valve when he flipped it correct side up. Actually, come to think of it, this isn't very funny at all.

Re:(The Real) Murphy's Law strikes again! (1)

AlecC (512609) | about 9 months ago | (#44239657)

If only they had labeled, with the arrow, the words "up", and put another arrow down, with the letters "dn" for "down", then none of this would have happened.

Unless, of course, somebody else had, for reasons that seemed excellent to them, decreed that this particular sub-assembly needed to be assembled upside down. At which point you need a careful worker to decide whether Up and Down mean assembly or launch orientation. This is wh nautical types use Port and Starboard instead of Left and Right for bits of the ship. Perhaps rocketeers need similar terms for nose and tail (Hot and Cold?).

FACT (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44238623)

I wasn't taught to hate niggers, rather I learned to from vast experience.

KSP (2)

Optimal Cynic (2886377) | about 9 months ago | (#44238661)

Hey, give them a break! I do that in Kerbal Space Program all the time!

Re:KSP (1)

oobayly (1056050) | about 9 months ago | (#44238841)

Squad must be ecstatic, KSP has become the de-facto analogy when it comes to space related tutorials pretty much everywhere.

Re:KSP (2)

Optimal Cynic (2886377) | about 9 months ago | (#44238933)

When the rocket guides itself into the ground because you put something on upside down, it's the most appropriate analogy. I've done exactly that more than once, to the point where my mental pre-launch checklist includes "navball completely blue?"

Re:KSP (1)

Rhacman (1528815) | about 9 months ago | (#44239065)

The difference between reality and Kerbal Space Program is that in KSP you test your hugely expensive designs by just launching them and seeing if they crash whereas in reality... what point was I trying to make again?

(Anyway, they should have just let Jeb pilot that thing. It might have still fireballed, but he's pulled off far stranger feats!)

Like the old saying goes... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44238717)

Garbage in, garbage out.

Wrong hemisphere (4, Funny)

jovius (974690) | about 9 months ago | (#44238735)

Should have launched from Australia.

Re:Wrong hemisphere (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44239205)

Should have launched from Australia.

Are you kidding? They were trying to place satellites in orbit. Had they launched from Australia with the inverted sensors they'd have landed on the Under Moon by now.

Re:Wrong hemisphere (3, Funny)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 9 months ago | (#44239293)

That's the problem. Some parts were made by subcontractors in Australia, where up is down, rats are as tall as humans and hop around and flat-chested 30-years-old women are classified as underage teenagers.

Shipped in cardboard box? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44238803)

Were they shipped in a cardboard box marked with an arrow and "this end up"? That would explain why. Nobody pays attention to that.

I have an explanation (0)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 9 months ago | (#44238853)

"It seems amazing that something as fundamental as this was not caught during quality control"
I have an explanation: it's Russian

I have seen something similar. (3, Interesting)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 9 months ago | (#44239047)

Back in the day when I was with the ministry of defense we lost a vehicle due to an error like this. They had changed the vendor for the gyros of the roll sensor. The new gyros had the voltages in the reverse sense. It is possible one vendor was European and the other was American. They wired it according to the sense of the old vendor. So the control input to the ailerons would add to the roll instead of counteracting it. The RPV crashed 1.5 seconds after launch.

In the postmortem the flight director started with, "... we sadly lost the vehicle after a flight of 1.5 seconds ...". The mission director interrupted, "What flight? The damned thing had a 6000 Kg[sic][*] rocket booster. You can put it under a 3 ton rock and it will 'fly' for more than 2 seconds..."

[*]He should have said 6000 Kgf-sec, because that was the impulse delivered by the twin rocket boosters each 1500 Kgf thrust burning for 2 seconds.

Mars orbital failure (5, Insightful)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about 9 months ago | (#44239259)

The US once sent a probe all the way to mars, only to have it fail because the ground computer was in imperial units while the orbiter was in SI units [wikipedia.org] .

Getting everything correct is hard... really hard. For most projects you have elaborate "fail gracefully" modes which rely on external agents to notice the problem and take action. A doctor or pilot can take appropriate action, but it's hard to do with rockets.

For comparison, I wrote the software for the altimeter that goes into some 747 aircraft. Total of about 21,000 lines of C, about 40% comments so figure 12,000 lines of code. The testers (and I) worked really hard to find all bugs in the system, knowing that a mistake could knock a plane out of the sky. There were elaborate internal checks both in software and process, and Boeing did their own testing on top of ours. Everything passed, all requirements were met, things looked good.

The device had 1 bug, found after installation. A software typo which wasn't caught by QA even though it had a specific testing requirement. No one was negligent, it just slipped by despite best efforts.

Multiply this by all the devices in an aircraft, and add in the other engineering disciplines like electronics and mechanical. It's really hard to get everything right all at once, and on the first try.

So is there equality? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44239261)

So are the responsible going to jail... just like programmers go for bad development?

Wait, Upside down you say? (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 9 months ago | (#44239285)

Quick! Before it's too late! Somebody call the Australian Space Agency!
Tell them to look for any boxes not marked: \/ Fragile: Then End Down \/

What about the brown plume? (2)

Antipater (2053064) | about 9 months ago | (#44239319)

I'm confused by this explanation. An upside-down angular velocity sensor would definitely pitch the rocket out of control the way it did. But what about the brown plume that was clearly visible before the rocket lost it? The consensus seemed to be that that was unburned rocket fuel, implying an engine shutdown.

I don't build rockets, but I can't see how an upside-down rotation sensor could cause an engine shutdown, especially since the shutdown occurred before the rocket began pitching.. Could there have been more than one problem on the rocket?

Re:What about the brown plume? (1)

AlecC (512609) | about 9 months ago | (#44239723)

I could imagine a completely separate attitude sensor shutting the engine down, with a pitch angle too small to see but large enough to detect. The rockets really are meant to fire straight down, and even a small error might well trigger a closedown.

Disco nyet, disco nyet, russians early go to bed! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44239401)

> Each of those sensors had an arrow that was supposed to point toward the top of the vehicle, however multiple sensors on the failed rocket were pointing downward instead.

The same reason brought down the soviet "Polyus" battle-satellite in 1987, as it was trying to ride into LEO, piggybacking a giant Energija rocket booster.

Touch cheese comrades (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44239521)

Of course it's possible to add more controls and archive more security, but it also adds weight of vessel which in turn it cannot raise to orbit. Even if its a small thing those easily adds up. That's my first thought of this event.

Anyway, this brings in to my mind a story loooong time back from -70's when I was still quite young. My father was a paper machinery pioneer and the company he was employed had sold a paper mill to Russia and was about to be delivered to city of Archangel (Koala Peninsula). The project was quite in the last moments some summer and we were spending summer holiday at our summer cottage when a company car was suddenly drove there. The driver had just a note telling that my father had to return immediately to work. There was some kind of severe issue with the machinery that had arrived to plant. Without further ado my father shaved his holiday beard and kissed us, her wife and me his son around 12 then, goodbye. He just quipped that he could be back by the evening or possibly next day. Well the days passed and we heard nothing. After 4 days we took a bus back to town were we lived and went to home. There was a short notice on kitchen table that he had to leave for a short trip to USSR to find out what are the problems with installation of the machinery.

We heard nothing from him nor did his employer. He returned after 3 1/2 weeks and looked like he had lived in ghetto, he had lost weight, hadn't shaved, clothes were dirty and he smelled like a rat. Right after he had been in sauna and slept well, he next day told what had happened. He told that Russian customer (state committee or ministry which purchased all this large projects) had demanded that they send 3 to engineers (one of these my father) and their supervisor immediately to the site to solve the issues they had with the installation. The company (Valmet at that time) even though it was state owned too had agreed because they considered customer so important. So they drove with that same Lincoln from Central Finland towards Leningrad (St. Petersburgh) picking up Russian interpreter on their way and continued immediately to Archangel. To make the story shorter I just refer that he said it was a journey he never forget so many things happened next 12 hour while driving. OK, so they got to newly built paper mill site and went directly to see the problem. They found out that the site was completely built by the prisoners and they could only enter the site while there were no prisoners nor their guards or supervisors.

Right, they found out quite soon that in that installation group were none, I repeat none, who could have been able to read technical documentation and understand it in details so that they could have done the preparations needed properly. The problem was that they had prepared the whole concrete base of the machinery so that it was all reversed left to right. They went and tried to explain the issue using interpreter to plant managers who seemed not first to understand the extent of the problem at all. To understand the scale think of it a paper mill of that time was 7-9 meters wide, it was about 400-500 meters long. Fixing the problem would take months as they have to first break and dig out the old, make new molds and then cast new concrete, wait it dries up enough and then they would be able to start proper installation. Once they got the word trough and installation and plant managers understand the scale they started demanding that the company had provided wrong machinery which left and right was mismatched and because of that the company had to deliver a completely new machinery etc.

OK, just to shorten the long story more it's enough that I just tell that my father and his team spent several days before they got everybody convinced and that installation was not possible before they fix the base of the machinery properly. Knowing that would take very long and that they could come back once it's finished Russians suddenly didn't agree them to leave before the installation was done. They got the word lastly trough to company about the issue and asked that company would help them out from the country. It took over two weeks before they were allowed to leave.

What my father told about the living conditions they were badly sub standard, very poor, no proper food, no proper sanitation, no proper nothing. After he got back he swore that he wouldn't go back whatsoever it takes.

From that story what my father told, I got vaccinated and understood the risks of projects and working in USSR. Modern Russia is not of course same country as it was over 40 years ago, many things have changed a lot better, but that country and attitude there can certainly still cause surprise to unwary. I never have had even a tough working there.

This end should point toward the ground (2)

Arancaytar (966377) | about 9 months ago | (#44239553)

If you want to go to space.

If it starts pointing toward space you are having a bad problem and you will not go to space today.

causality (1)

drwho (4190) | about 9 months ago | (#44239615)

I am confused - did the upside-down sensors cause the other problems as well, such as the early disconnect of wiring, or are these all separate failures? If it's the latter, there needs to be some serious effort made to improve the design and construction.

sure, blame the sensor guy. (1)

Vitriol+Angst (458300) | about 9 months ago | (#44239625)

We just assume that the sensors were upside down -- but does anyone ask if the rocker wasn't upside down and the sensors right side up?

No. No they do not. Installing sensors is a thankless job and nobody says; "Great sensor." They only talk to you if something goes wrong."

>> Brought to you by the Anti Sensor Installer Defamation League

Designing quality in (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#44239641)

The components were well engineered, but the design of the component was lacking. Installing something backwards should not be possible, and that's part of the design too. Installing computer memory chips is really difficult to do if you install them backwards, because there is a notch preventing it. I've built printed circuit boards (professionally) and have also installed motherboards into computers. In most cases you can't install the wiring harnesses incorrectly because either it doesn't reach the socket, or the number of pins is incorrect. Installing microprocessor chips backwards is impossible because of the notch, and the pins would be up (not able to reach the ball grid array at the bottom) if you put it in upside down.

Sofware Fix? (2)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 9 months ago | (#44239663)

Can the flight control system verify the sensor readings before launch? "Sensor 7 says the rocket is pointing towards the Earth on the launchpad - we might want to have a look".

other failures (1)

jonnymacuser (2893299) | about 9 months ago | (#44239757)

In 2011 the Mars-bound Russian Fobos-Grunt failed because of a programming error which led to a simultaneous reboot of two working channels of an onboard computer, leaving the craft parked in low-Earth orbit and eventually uncontrolled re-entry over the Pacific Ocean. In 1999 NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter disintegrated in the Martian upper atmosphere due to ground based computer software which produced output in non-SI units of pound-seconds (lbf×s) instead of the metric units of newton-seconds (N×s) specified in the contract between NASA and Lockheed.
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