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  Apollo Escape Tower Propellant

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Author Topic:   Apollo Escape Tower Propellant
saturn1b
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Posts: 137
From: Westcliffe, CO
Registered: Jun 2006

posted 09-01-2012 08:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for saturn1b   Click Here to Email saturn1b     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Here is the latest artifact put on display at the Southern Colorado Space Museum & Learning Center. It is a slice of the solid rocket motor propellant that was used in the escape tower for the Apollo capsules.

We are pleased to have it on loan from the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. We just wanted to share it with our friends on collectSPACE.

ilbasso
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Posts: 1501
From: Greensboro, NC USA
Registered: Feb 2006

posted 09-01-2012 10:24 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ilbasso   Click Here to Email ilbasso     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Outstanding! I've never seen solid fuel propellant displayed that way before. Very interesting indeed.

stsmithva
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Posts: 1537
From: Fairfax, VA, USA
Registered: Feb 2007

posted 09-01-2012 10:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for stsmithva   Click Here to Email stsmithva     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That is a fascinating display. I have to ask: is it still reactive/flammable? I mean, I don't think it will go off if you touch a match to it, but at least at one point it was ready to get very hot very quickly.

p51
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From: Olympia, WA, USA
Registered: Sep 2011

posted 09-01-2012 11:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If memory serves from some stuff I read on solid propellants in the Army, I think they were polysulfide based composite solids. Pretty stable stuff as opposed to a liquid propellant of almost any kinds, but still I wouldn't want it in any building I was in.

If it touched off in the state it's in, it'd probably act as a low explosive that can obviously generate a LOT of heat and pressure.

Maybe they've stabilized it somehow, but I'm no chemist so I wouldn't have a clue how they'd render it safe. That said, I'd think they'd HAVE to safe it in some manner, otherwise a spectator with the right equipment could kill himself, everyone immediately around them and destroy a substantial part of the building in the process.

I can't go into details, but I personally had to help out on an incident report once where someone accidentally set off a similar propellant type by accident. They didn't find much of the person to ID as human afterward.

I'd like to know how this stuff got rendered safe.

SpaceAholic
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Posts: 3276
From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 09-02-2012 05:43 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The fuel grain is cast ammonium perchlorate. While decomposition has "probably" rendered it explosively inert, there are human health implications associated with acute exposure so it will need to be handled with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and conserved in a hermetically sealed enclosure.

Jim Behling
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Posts: 718
From: Cape Canaveral, FL
Registered: Mar 2010

posted 09-02-2012 08:36 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I am 100% sure that there is no AP in that section of "propellant". It's most likely just the binder PBAN or HTPB (rubber) with or without the fuel (aluminum).

Oxidizer-less propellant is what is used in inert solid rocket motors, like those used by shuttle program to perform the mated vertical ground vibration tests and functional validation tests at KSC and VAFB.

saturn1b
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Posts: 137
From: Westcliffe, CO
Registered: Jun 2006

posted 09-02-2012 10:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for saturn1b   Click Here to Email saturn1b     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
To answer the questions about it's potency, I was provided a 10 page report along with the artifact. It states that samples were removed and sent to the Army Laboratory on Redstone Arsenal and Marshal Space Flight Center Test Area for testing. Scans were taken and sent to a spectrochemical analyst in Promontory, Utah. The final paragraph in the analysis states that:
Based on all the testing accomplished on the small amount of material taken from the rocket motor, all indications show the material to be inert.
That being said, when we picked up the artifact, we were told that we should treat it as non explosive but slightly flammable. It is 40+ years old and has been sitting in storage, uncovered for quite some time.

Just for safety's sake, we also added a no smoking sign on top of the display.

We are obviously very pleased to be able to display it here as I've not seen anything like it displayed elsewhere. If anyone knows of a similar display, please share it with me.

SpaceAholic
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Posts: 3276
From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 09-02-2012 11:31 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Does the report provide spectroscopy ID of what the material actually is? Explosively inert doesnt mean biologically safe. I have a sample removed from the same fuel grain as well as an example of HTPB.

bwhite1976
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Posts: 199
From: belleville, IL USA
Registered: Jun 2011

posted 09-02-2012 02:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for bwhite1976   Click Here to Email bwhite1976     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Very nice display. I have never seen anything like that on display before. Nice Work!

saturn1b
Member

Posts: 137
From: Westcliffe, CO
Registered: Jun 2006

posted 09-02-2012 03:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for saturn1b   Click Here to Email saturn1b     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by SpaceAholic:
Does the report provide spectroscopy ID of what the material actually is?
The report mentions the following tests:
  • XRF X-Ray Fluorescence.
    Elements found were Aluminum, Chlorine, Potassium and Iron

  • FTIR Fourier Transform Infa-red Analysis
    I can't figure out the graph that went along with it.

  • DSC Differential Scanning Calorimeter analysis. Indicated that the materials were not energetic.
That's pretty much what I have.

SpaceAholic
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Posts: 3276
From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 09-02-2012 03:58 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The results looks suspiciously like Perchlorate and binder to me (the iron is included as a catalyst).

Jim Behling
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Posts: 718
From: Cape Canaveral, FL
Registered: Mar 2010

posted 09-02-2012 07:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I would agree.

Jay Chladek
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Posts: 2270
From: Bellevue, NE, USA
Registered: Aug 2007

posted 09-03-2012 05:47 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Ammonium perchlorate as used in solid fuel (it is an oxidizer) requires a very hot spark to light. A few years ago, the BATF erroneously classified the stuff as "low explosive" meaning that a lot of high powered rocketeers were temporarily in a bind as they required a permit and an explosives bunker to store the stuff. A lot of leg work by people working for the Tripoli High Powered Rocketry association and NAR got a judge to overturn the ruling as it was determined that the science they used to classify it as "low explosive" was junk science. The BATF decided to not appeal the ruling.

A buddy of mine in Tripoli had an ash tray made from Ammonium Perchlorate solid fuel. As a demonstration as to how safe and stable the stuff is, he would put out a lit cigarette in the thing. It practically needs something like a very hot firework or explosive to light and it burns hot as opposed to "exploding" if there is nothing to channel the buildup of pressure. In very large quantities and under high heat loads, it could explode I believe in its pure powder form (as what happened in the PEPCON plant explosion in 1988). But it apparently can't "explode" in its solid fuel form when mixed with aluminum powder and the other additives. By comparison, gasoline vapors and a lit match are MUCH more dangerous.

SprocketCur
New Member

Posts: 6
From: Huntsville, AL
Registered: Mar 2011

posted 09-04-2012 08:49 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SprocketCur   Click Here to Email SprocketCur     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
We were concerned about the very same issues when we began to consider the loan out to the Southern Colorado Space Museum. We feel confident that the NASA and US Army report is correct and accurate regarding the inert nature of the sample.

Please also be assured that the handling of the sample was done taking the appropriate precautions for health and personal safety.

ilbasso
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Posts: 1501
From: Greensboro, NC USA
Registered: Feb 2006

posted 09-04-2012 09:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ilbasso   Click Here to Email ilbasso     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Was pondering the relative safety of solid fuel propellant, and then recalling that when the Shuttle program started in earnest, all offices in the VAB were closed and the tenants relocated because of the danger faced by having live propellant (SRB's) in the building.

garymilgrom
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Posts: 1798
From: Atlanta, GA, USA
Registered: Feb 2007

posted 09-04-2012 09:53 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for garymilgrom   Click Here to Email garymilgrom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From the photo I thought these were shaped segments meant to fit in the upper end of the escape tower.

Re-lighting the image shows it's one entire piece with the star-shaped inner cut out that controls the burning rate for solid fuels like this.

A beautiful display of a wonderful artifact - well done!

Propellant 400px

garymilgrom
Member

Posts: 1798
From: Atlanta, GA, USA
Registered: Feb 2007

posted 09-04-2012 09:58 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for garymilgrom   Click Here to Email garymilgrom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by ilbasso:
Was pondering the relative safety of solid fuel propellant, and then recalling that when the Shuttle program started in earnest, all offices in the VAB were closed and the tenants relocated because of the danger faced by having live propellant (SRB's) in the building.
Surely the danger presented by the SRBs was that they were loaded with fuel, not that the solid fuel was more dangerous than liquid rocket fuel.

In other words the SRBs are never empty (except after use) while the fuel tanks in a liquid fueled rocket are never full until just before launch, when everyone has been cleared from the immediate vicinity.

Jay Chladek
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Posts: 2270
From: Bellevue, NE, USA
Registered: Aug 2007

posted 09-06-2012 07:16 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Yes, the shuttle era VAB restrictions were due to the storage of fully fueled SRB segments in the VAB. During Apollo, the VAB was ONLY used to stack empty rocket stages. The fuelling was all done at the pad. So more people could tour the VAB facilities during Apollo without the security restrictions that were in place for shuttle. Sure, some elements such as the pyros and LES would be fuelled of course, but the arming systems likely would be left out until the vehicle was delivered to the pad. Even if solid fuel doesn't explode and needs a hot spark to light it, you really don't want an SRB segment to cook off as the resulting fire would be pretty intense.

As far as offices and desks within the VAB, to my knowledge there was some shuffling done. But not everyone who had an office in the VAB necessarily got cleared out. As I understand it, the offices for those people that had to be in the VAB (directly involved with the day to day operations of preparing shuttle stacks for flight) continued to have desk space in the VAB. They all just had to pass more stringent security background checks first.

All times are CT (US)

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