SeaLaunch explosion video online

By Phil Plait | January 31, 2007 9:20 am

Someone put up video of the SeaLaunch rocket explosion from yesterday:

The rocket can be seen to collapse before actually lifting off. The smoke hides everything, but it looks like there was a blowout before the rocket could get off the ground. The pad is almost certainly destroyed, but I have not heard any hard news on that front. The rocket was carrying a Dutch telecommunications satellite.

Tip o’ the nose cone to Jim Oberg for the link.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Pretty pictures, Science

Comments (22)

  1. Grand Lunar

    Oooo, that had to be tough for the controllers to watch.

    Reminds me of seeing footage of malfunctioning rockets of the US.

  2. Bill Nettles

    The problem was that the Russian guy giving the countdown messes up…he skipped “5”! going from “shesht” (6) to “chityeri” (4). Must have thrown the button pushers off enough for them to make the rocket misfire and explode.

    Either that or he KNEW it was going to fail and the excitement of the moment caused him to miscount.

    Obvious cause and effect, right!? :)=

  3. Daniel

    ouch! That sucks.

  4. JC

    “Oooo, that had to be tough for the controllers to watch.”

    Indeed. “Go iner…tiaaal…”

  5. CR

    It’s a good thing they evac the launch pad itself prior to launch, just in case something like this actually happens. (I haven’t checked yet today, but a report on the link late last night said that nobody was injured nor killed & all ground crew were accounted for.)

  6. From the SeaLaunch website (
    A Sea Launch Zenit-3SL vehicle, carrying the NSS-B satellite, experienced an anomaly today during launch operations. All personnel at the launch site are safe and accounted for.

    Anomalies suck.
    Rocket science turns out to be hard.

  7. Apa

    It seems that the rocket drops down before the explosion. What could be the cause of that?

  8. Could be a number of things — probably something impacting (no pun intended) the thrust of the rocket. Maybe an engine failure, or a feed problem…


  9. kingnor

    the rocket could also be falling directly toward or away from the camera, like tipping over.

    That really really sucks.

  10. Craig

    Besides that fact that the rocket explodes, you can clearly tell by the tone of the woman doing the countdown that there is something not right.
    When she says “Go inertial” (or whatever it is she says) she doesn’t say it with much conviction. She just kinda trails off…

  11. PsyberDave

    I agree. It did seem to move downward before it exploded. Maybe someone left it in reverse gear. Or, maybe they installed the engines backward. I bet it was following its GPS system recommendation of the shortest route to its destination.

    So many possibilities. They’ll all need to be explored.

  12. Robert Carnegie

    When the public audience hears someone doing a countdown in these cases, surely it isn’t real? I mean, it’ll be clocks and electronics now. Every step automated for when it’s supposed to happen – if everything works. Space Shuttle launches get to zero and then start reciting poetry about how glorious it is to fly into space, whereas any human being who actually is involved with the thing taking off will still be very busy. I think we’re listening to the senior cheerleader. Which suggests launches could be even more fun except when it goes disappointingly or tragically wrong, as in this case.

  13. Markus Mencke

    At, they suspect a failure of the fuel turbopump to be the cause of the loss, based on a small piece of black smoke visible prior to the detonation. Seems they have a hi-res version of the video there.

  14. Rick Johnson

    The rocket just didn’t have the necessary thrust and once the clamps released it fell back down the hole for exhaust gasses. This was common early in our space program. See the link for one of our rockets doing the same thing. It did rise a few feet before falling back. It appears SeaLaunch didn’t even get that far. A turbo pump failure certainly would cause this.

  15. Lunatik

    Back to the drawing board…



  16. Actually, I’m not certain if we can really tell what’s happening to the rocket’s position just by looking at the video. It appears to go down, but hold your mouse over the nose of the rocket during the explosion. It really doesn’t seem to move very much then. At least it doesn’t seem to move much to me, and certainly not much compared to the motion of the camera itself after the explosion. Maybe it really does move downwards, but I’d say it’s difficult to tell from this alone.

    Is that the live feed which they then cut? If so, the Sea Launch logo seems to add a little bit of a painful, ironic flavor.

  17. CR

    If you pause and go frame by frame (or at least as close to frame-by-frame as you can on a YouTube link) you can better tell that the rocket collapses/falls downward/moves relative to the structure on the right side of the launch platform. This is before the camera shift/jump to the wider angle after the explosion really gets going.

    By the way, that explosion was massive; I’d be surprised if the platform wasn’t at least severely damaged to the point of having to be scrapped or scuttled. (That’s if it survived at all.)

  18. ovcolumbia

    Just an FYI, the callout ‘go inertial’ is a standard call for Sea Launch at liftoff.

  19. bad Jim

    JC’s comment is a lousy Russian pun. “Zhal” means something like “oh, well”.

  20. Cisco

    Big set back for the Space programs around the world. Companies and organizations will have to scramble for the hot commodity of the existing rockets and launch systems. Lots of money will be lost and lots of services will be delayed until the satellites get to orbit. Go Atlas! Go Proton! Go…

  21. Rockethead

    Although it looks really bad, if the vehicle’s first stage exploded on the pad, the damage might not be that great. The large fireball indicates that might be the case. If the rocvket dropped down INTO the hole, then the contained explosion could really cause some serious damage.

    Looks to me like the RD-171 first stage engine exploded while increasing thrust or the first stage fuel tank ruptured, fuel spilled, and ignited on the pad.

    It is a bit curious that the rocket seesm to fall stright down. A fuel tank rupture might cause it to tip in one direction. That argues for an engine explosion but right now is pure speculation.

    We will need to see what the other cameras on board the platform have recorded.

  22. Ronster

    You can view photos of the platform heading back to Long Beach, CA on the Sea Launch website. It arrived back in Long Beach on February 16th. My understanding is that the blast deflectors were lost, but most of the platform is undamaged. You can see part of the the blackened launch area in two of the photos. Further details will be forthcoming, but the finding by the Sea Launch Failure Review Oversight Board is that a metal fragment had gotten into the engine. FOD (foreign object debris/damage) strikes again. If you are in the Los Angeles area, take a drive to Long Beach and go to Terminal Island. A public access road will take you very near to the launch platform and the support ship. I am lucky that I was able to tour both of them as I work for Boeing.


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