Tuesday, March 17, 2015

50 Years Ago: Asset Lost at Sea and an Atlas Rocket Explodes

Back on February 23, 1965 the United States Air Force lost one of its Assets. Literally. As part of Project Asset, the US Air Force was testing the heat shield part of the cancelled DynaSoar X-20 program. Realizing that the data on glider re-entry would still be valuable, the ASSET program continued and the information would later be used to help design the Space Shuttle.

The Asset launches used pad 17B on Cape Canaveral, and were planned to arc out over the Atlantic and have the glider test craft recovered for analysis. ASV-1, launched on a Thor rocket, succeeded in re-entry and landing in the ocean, but it's recovery system malfunctioned and it sank and was lost. Remaining missions used a Thor-Delta rocket configuration using a second stage to propel the craft on a steeper re-entry path. The second launch was also a disaster, the second stage malfunctioned and the craft was self-destructed in flight. ASSET 3 was a success, and the craft recovered and is preserved in the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH. The other flights were also lost at sea after successful flights but failures in recovery. ASV-6, occurring 50 years ago, was the end of the program.

Pictures by Ed Hengeveld.

Within a few weeks of the ASV-6 failure, there was another disaster at the Cape. Two seconds after ignition on Pad 36B, an Atlas-Centaur rocket carrying a dummy test Surveyor spacecraft, exploded into a fireball. A fuel valve shut off at ignition, causing 2 of 3 engines to fail. The rocket collapsed back onto the launchpad, having only risen three feet. It then tipped over and exploded onto the ground. No one was hurt and the damage was estimate at $5 million.

Atlas-Centaur 5 on Pad 36B.

Flames surround the rocket as it settles back onto the pad.

The explosion engulfs the tower as well.

More distant view of the explosion.

Wreckage at the site.


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