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Russian rocket crashed due to upside down sensors, reports suggest

By

July 11, 2013

A Proton-M rocket (Photo: Oleg Golovnev/Shutterstock)

A Proton-M rocket (Photo: Oleg Golovnev/Shutterstock)

A Proton-M rocket crashed headlong into the ground shortly after take off on July 2. According to independent website Russian Space Web, which has been monitoring Russian media since the crash, reports that crash investigators examining the wreckage had found the angular velocity sensors had been installed the wrong way up.

According to the website, the sensors are marked with an arrow which is supposed to point upwards. However, several sensors were found among the wreckage were found to be pointing the other way. It's thought that the signals picked up by the wrongly installed sensors threw the rocket's flight control system into disarray, causing the rocket to turn upside down shortly after take off, and crash roughly a kilometer from the launchpad. (A video of the ill-fated flight can be seen on YouTube).

Though it appears that the error can be traced back to a young technician, if reports that no visual checks were made are accurate, it would seem unfair to lay the blame there.

The crash, which reportedly caused a crater up to 200 m (650 ft) across, posed a significant risk as it failed to clear the launch complex at Baikonur in Kazakhstan. However, no one was hurt as a result of the crash.

See Russian Space Web's account for fuller details of the accident itself, the investigation timeline, and a fuller explanation of the actual cause.

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life.   All articles by James Holloway
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8 Comments

Wow I thought the aerospace industry would have implemented physical miss-assembly prevention features long ago.

n2liberty
11th July, 2013 @ 01:01 pm PDT

Upside-down sensors. That'd do it.

Steelgoat
11th July, 2013 @ 03:31 pm PDT

lol, that sucks. Someone's gonna be lookin' in the Russian classified ads!

Derek Howe
11th July, 2013 @ 04:21 pm PDT

Seems like their quality control people should get a rocket (sorry). As an earlier poster said: (paraphrased) Surely something this expensive would have one-way-only shaped parts! If it is wrong, it will not fit - DOH! Seems to be a hard way to learn a simple lesson. If for no other reason, something that makes that large a crater is deemed very dangerous to launch pad areas and staff.

The Skud
11th July, 2013 @ 06:34 pm PDT

I would think that they would ask the rockets computer where the sky was before launch just to check its sanity.

Slowburn
11th July, 2013 @ 10:59 pm PDT

There is a manufacturing engineering technique called Poka-Yoke. Parts are designed so they can only go together one way. I guess the Russians haven't heard of the technique as yet.

Mr E
12th July, 2013 @ 10:26 am PDT

If this is true, it confirms the original meaning of "Murphy's Law" and by the same mechanism. Murphy was an engineer on John Paul Stapp's 1050's era rocket sled program. All six acceleration sensors in Col. Stapp's vest were installed backwards for one of his hair raising runs and when Murphy found out about the mistake he made his pronouncement that "If something can be done two ways and one of them is the wrong way someone is sure to do it" A very different and correctable sense of the fatalistic "If something can go wrong, it will" that most people take to be his Law. It seems we must re-discover "human factors" engineering in each new generation.

Paul Gracey
13th July, 2013 @ 02:52 pm PDT

Martin Marietta built a Mars Explorer that failed a few years ago. I was involved in the roll-out party, and as I was looking at the launch vehicle on its delivery truck, I was surprised to see that the wiring from the motor section to the payload section was a group of hand laced & tied individual wires attached at either end to barrier strips. I wondered if I was back in the 1960's. It turned out that the mission failed due to the wires being connected to the wrong screws of the barrier strip.

Lonchair
19th July, 2013 @ 05:55 pm PDT
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