News

Titan explosion:
General cites teamwork, training with preventing injuries

45th Space Wing Public Affairs report

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     A Titan IVA launch vehicle with a National Reconnaissance Office payload, explodes seconds after launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral AS, Aug. 12.
This is a situation we never want to see; but, it is one we train for. In this mishap, our contingency plans were executed flawlessly," said Brig. Gen. Randy Starbuck, 45th Space Wing commander.
     It took less than two seconds for our mission flight control officers to analyze the situation and take appropriate action while maintaining their cool.. Then, many people from the wing, Brevard County and our contractors pitched in to begin the laborious process of mishap investigation," he said.
     According to 45th SW officials, the launch vehicle began to self-destruct 40 seconds after launch. At 42 seconds into flight, the mission flight control officers sent command destruct signals, to further break up the rocket and mitigate possible damage from falling debris.
     It appears all of the debris fell over water when the anomaly occurred, said Starbuck.
"The altitude of the launch vehicle at the time of the anomaly is estimated at 20,000 feet above the surface. The winds at that altitude were from the southwest at about 20 knots, which would have carried the debris, blast and any toxic plumes farther out to sea," said the general.
     At no time was there any danger to the public because of the debris, blast or toxic plumes, he said.
     The debris fell into the ocean about a half-mile off the coast of Cape Canaveral, said Starbuck. The depth of the water at the estimated anomaly point is 20-50 feet.
The general has appointed Lt. Col. Glenn Vera, deputy commander for 45th Operations Group, as the interim mishap board president.
     "Major General Bob C. Hinson is the president of the investigative board assigned to evaluate the anomaly," said Starbuck. Hinson, a former 45th SW commander, is currently the director of operations at Headquarters Air Force Space Command, Peterson AFB, Colo. He arrived at Patrick Thursday.
   

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Photos courtesy of Aviation Week

According to the wing commander, Lockheed Martin, who builds the Titan rocket, and other contractors will be part of the board investigating the cause of the mishap.
    "This is a sad day for the Air Force, but I'm very pleased with the training and processes we have in place at the wing. Along with Lockheed Martin and our contractors, our joint efforts to ensure safety is always paramount helped ensure there were no injuries in this accident," said the general.
     "The Titan is a very reliable launch vehicle, and I want to say I am proud of the men and women of the 45th Space Wing for their training, professionalism and their actions, that allows me to say no one was hurt in this incident," said Starbuck.
     There have been 24 previous successful launches of the Titan from the Cape since 1993. The rocket, built by Lockheed Martin, is the largest unmanned space booster used by the U.S. Air Force. The Titan costs an estimated $344 million.
     The Titan provides primary access to space for critical national security and civil payloads, and is launched from the east and west coasts of the United States. Titan IV rockets are launched from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., and the Cape.
     Titan launch systems have a better than 95 percent operational success rate. Titan IV is capable of placing 47,800 pounds into low-Earth orbit or more than 12,700 pounds into geosynchronous orbit--22,300 miles above the Earth.
     Titan IV consists of two solid-propellant stage  motors, a liquid propellant two-stage core and a 16.7-foot-diameter payload fairing.
     Upgraded three-segment solid rocket motors increase the vehicle's pay
load capability by approximately 25 percent.
     The Titan IV configurations include a cryogenic Centaur upper stage, a solid-propellant Inertial Upper Stage, or no upper stage.