Why Rockets Fail: 1997 Delta II Explosion – When a Booster Comes Unzipped

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On 17th January 1997 a Delta II rocket exploded seconds after launch and scattered burning debris over the surrounding area, it’s one of the most spectacular rocket failures, and it was caused by a solid rocket motor splitting while under pressure.
I’ve talked about enough exploding rockets in recent years that I wanted to start a series of videos about historic rocket failures. This isn’t just going to be talking about the impressive RUD’s but the nature of the failure and the hardware involve.

Images & Video:
Northrom Grumman / Orbital / ATK

Delta II ICESAT-2 image by Brady Kenniston

News Article from Aviation Week

Carbon Fibre test video:

  1. Jeff B

    More strap on boosters for better atmospheric penetration, but beware of explosive warts. OK it was easy.

  2. LA Prepper

    Ultrasonic testing for the win!

  3. Péter Szabados

    I’m Scott Manley, I’m making a series about rockets not flying safe.

  4. Space Pixel

    I actually like this. Keep this one

  5. Nick Jeffrey

    Wow that was an amazing explosion!

  6. John Frian

    Well told story, much enjoyed!

  7. Will Stevenson

    Wooo! A series about booms! Looking forward to more!

  8. michael cannard

    5:16 Most badass bird under rocket motor

  9. Chris Hipser

    oof the audio on this video <3 you scotttttt

  10. Robert Keddie

    What’s the glowing light at the right hand side in the SRB test? Is it some sort of reflectiion in the camera equipment?

  11. Tadd Awesome

    Crazy eye movement during the intro

  12. Michael Dilullo

    I would like to see a video on how the self destruct system works

  13. PepperMint & Mr. Minticuz

    When you haven’t watched Scott Manley in about 8 years (whenever I last watched ksp), you’re so outdated about the rocket stuff and you get blasted with a whole bunch of rocket terminology which you have no clue about.. That’s me..
    Absolutely awesome video, Scott!

  14. Ali Gallaton

    That’s a rather pricey firework. The normal ones cost about a tenner.

  15. Anklejbiter

    I’ve been watching this guy for three years and I only just now realized he has a monobrow

  16. ZiceLove

    Professor Manley, we’d love to hear your take on the Chinese sci fi blockbuster, The Wandering Earth, now on Netflix. Thanks

  17. RocKiteman _ 2001

    I wonder if you can get an automobile insurance policy that covers rocket explosions? 😊

  18. Kit Sandham

    Great new series!
    If all the worlds ICBMs were launched what do you think the failure rate would be?
    Any chance of getting ‘lucky’?

  19. Ojas Deshmukh

    Basic question…
    Why have we shifted from multiple first stage boosters to only 2 of them…
    Other than the increase in efficiency and twr of engines such as the Merlin are there other reasons…
    Plus why is the two booster configuration flown the way it is..

  20. Harabeck

    Looking forward to more like this!

  21. Timothy Fabrizio

    Another awesome and informative video! Thanks Scott!

  22. Maikal _

    You’re so reliably good, u may not even know. Thanks!

  23. FakeUserNameHere

    AKA: “Why You Will Not Go To Space Today”

  24. unclvinny

    Looking forward to more in this series, thanks!

  25. Mad Cat

    Informative and entertaining, nice work. 👍

  26. Rowan Streeter

    I think something similar happened to the SpaceX Dragon craft.

  27. Pandoran Bias

    The most expensive fireworks display in history.

  28. Pyrus Rex

    I new APCP was rubbery, but damn! That stuff bounces when it hits the ground!! Now that’s CONTENT.

  29. capnthepeafarmer

    Is like you to talk about the aluminum scam NASA recently figured out.

  30. Sausage Finger

    Love you his channel so much it hurts my brain

  31. Screaming Horse

    “at 1600ft”
    Uzi killed this rocket

  32. MarineRecon771

    I like this new series Scott.. Keep ’em coming!

  33. Nick Musetti

    LOVE THE IDEA! I get back from work tired and needing some good/ interesting videos; EVERY time I come back and see a new video by Scott Manley on my feed I watch first and am NEVER disappointed!

  34. BigCooter.com

    Rockets fail because they don’t work well after exploding.
    All failures can be eliminated by only launching in the USA on the 4th of July.

  35. Brian Mahoney

    Mr Manley your skill as a video producer is very impressive indeed. You did such a great job with this video. I found it to be immensely entertaining and informative.

  36. MinedMaker

    Can’t wait for a video (maybe?) on the spectacular proton rocket crash. It is perhaps the only crash that can give this firework display a run for it’s money!

  37. Andreas Onneken

    I like this new format! I´m looking forward to the next episodes.

  38. Sean McDonough

    1:35 – I hope their insurance covered that…

  39. John F

    Should be an interesting series. Looking forward to it.👍🚀💥

  40. trm

    Great idea Scott.
    I love seeing your comments under other yourubers videos, I special like the ones about the toaster and star citizen

  41. longshot7601

    Here I thought my Estes rocket doing a CATO was impressive.

  42. illidur

    Why rockets fail:
    7 seconds after launch their license expired.

  43. Aaron Ellis

    Hey just wanted to say love what you do and thanks for the video

  44. Mattgaming

    Oh I remember!
    *We have had an anomaly*
    That’s a bit of an understatement

  45. Tucsoncoyote 2019

    Delta II : Designed by Kerbals.
    And how about on the next one we do the Proton -M that crashed..
    (The one where the Internal Guidance was installed Upside down!

  46. Olysk8er

    12.58 seconds before the rocket exploded?
    Sounds like my last date. 😅

  47. Neofito89

    I like the name of this new series, ahahahah. High quality clickbait

  48. Max Backle

    A great idea for a new series! Looking forward to more episodes of this. Thanks for your content and being such a cool guy.

  49. Z0eff

    @6:11 Interesting to look back at what effectively would be a Scott Manley video in paper form, and that’s only 22 years ago.

  50. Ben Hollis

    Looking forward to more in this series! Thanks for the great content Scott!

  51. KINGatLIFE

    I was still developing in the womb when this exploded

  52. Rocket 60Saturn

    You always have great perspectives and a gift of simplifying for us some complex Tech.

  53. Pat Ellis

    I am massively looking forward to the continuation of this series!

  54. Jack Hocking

    Loving this new series Scott! Keep it up, would love to hear the technical side of more failures!

  55. Johnny Scott

    Great choice of series. As always your video is both interesting and informative. Cheers

  56. Billy Johnson

    6:50 in….”despite this violence” so darn funny. Simply fantastic descriptions.
    Keep up the great work Scott!

  57. Jarno de Wit

    This should have been called: Big OOps Moments, which is an acronym for BOOM.

  58. Eduardo Miziara

    That was a really expensive firework.

  59. Spivster46

    Awesome idea for a new series. I don’t want to see rockets explode, but it is fascinating to watch and learn about. Keep the great videos coming Scott.

  60. Sean McDonough

    3:23 – The Kerbal solution for getting an oversized rocket off the ground: MOAR SRBS!

  61. Mitch Gordon

    Two many parts and everything saposta work, I think not.

  62. Papi Uuhmelmehahay

    All rocketry is, essentially, a controlled explosion. We’re so accustomed to success we forget that they occasionally go kaboom.

  63. Kyle Garrett

    How late am I on the strap-on jokes?

  64. Zander Swart

    Hey Scotty. Thanks for beaming me up again!

  65. Makar Lock

    Fantastic series idea! Looking forward to future episodes!

  66. zapfanzapfan

    They should have launched on new years… awesome firework :-)

  67. Gaydolf Hitler

    that was one expensive firework

  68. Alexander Mensing

    [Revert to VAB]

  69. Scott Maday

    Imagine going to your car insurance after this happened.
    Agent: I’m so sorry your car burned. Did everyone get out of your car alright?
    Engineer: What do you mean? Nobody was in the car.
    Agent: Oh, that’s good. So did your house catch fire and spread to your car?
    Engineer: Actually burning solid rocket fuel rained down after a rocket explosion and hit my car.
    Agent: *confused staring*

  70. Uriah Siner

    Something I’ve been noticing in your videos is that when you put up any sort of predominantly white screen, it seems to lose brightness within a second (I’ve seen it happen on 3 different platforms and screens).
    If this is done on purpose in your editing, I really appreciate it. I tend to watch mostly at night so it’s quite nice to not have my retina fried away by an unexpected bright point in the video.

  71. Waterfordmaxx

    I was there!!! I was 10 years old and I still remember the noise and the incredible explosion that rocked the building I was in… we were getting ready to board the big red boat and they said if that boat wasnt between us and the explosion, all the glass in this glass wall facing the ship would have shattered!!!
    I remember the sliding doors coming off their tracks and the security guards running around not knowing what had just occurred… when we got on the boat we could see the smoke and fires still on the grounds…

  72. aron askengren

    I remember the LEGO set of that rocket, its what got me interested in rocketry from the beginning. Sad that it will never fly again :(

  73. Wroger Wroger

    I thought the explosion and the showering brought 3 ideas forward.
    1. It’s pretty cool and spectacular.
    2. There is a reason why observers are kept a long way, away fron the launch.
    3. They should blow up more often and,
    4. Can I come watch when it does?

  74. Greg Salus

    Love the new series, Scott! Very entertaining, you are awesome, sir.

  75. Doom2pro

    Instructions unclear, where am I flying my safe to?

  76. Brian Clark

    “It would be bad if these boosters failed. We better test them so that doesn’t happen.”
    “Good thinking, Jim.”

  77. nesa1126

    Awesome. Great idea for series of videos. Thanks. That slow motion shot of SRB was super cool.

  78. Jeffrey Bue

    I’m shocked the engineering team didn’t mandate a full-up NDI (using ultrasonics) of the composite structure after loading it up to 95% ultimate. Sometimes you learn things the hard way.

  79. Spacedog49

    My friend Marc was a member of the launch team in the blockhouse during this event. He manned the instrumentation bay and after the explosion they noticed that noxious fumes were leaking in through the cable conduits. They rammed rags, paper and their shirts into the conduits to block the fumes. Marc’s car was one of the severely damaged.
    Scott, contact me if you do a report on the Delta 3000 #134 failure of Sept. 13, 1977. I was a solid propellant consultant for the McDonnell Douglas failure review team. That failure resulted in a major change in solid propellant formulation.

  80. David Messer

    I saw a documentary on this failure once where one of the engineers described making an insurance claim about is totally destroyed car. Apparently the insurance company was skeptical when he said that “a rocket fell on it.” :)
    They also described jumping under the desks in the blockhouse as the debris came down. I’m not sure that doing that would’ve helped.
    Clearly, this could’ve been much worse.

  81. DH Yukon

    Thor became fat. It got heavier and heavier and became the delta; the tanks have been stretched, a second stage was added. It then blew up.

  82. OverclockedSanic

    If you’re covering rocket failures, you absolutely have to include the Ariane 5 launch. The integer overflow part is my favorite.

  83. Aaron Reichert

    It’s amazing how far a rocket can get in 12.4 seconds.
    They are so large but the scale throws off perceived velocity.

  84. Little Cripple

    I giggled at “9 strap ons”

  85. benenator3

    That first shot of the propellant falling from the sky reminds me of some of the explosions in the original Thunderbirds TV show

  86. Damien Drouart

    Nice firework.
    The second stage and payload flying of the disaster is so Kerbal.
    But kerbals would probably have tried to ignite the second stage to softland the payload ;)

  87. Matt Horkan

    How did you not title this something like “Stories of Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly” or something like that? :D Its not played out for everyone.
    Or “Great explosions in space travel history!”

  88. trm

    Can you make a video on thrust vectoring systems and their differences?

  89. Teh_D3th_St4r

    My favorite part of this particular rocket failure was mission control:
    *rocket explodes*
    *Everyone gasps
    “Uuhhh. We have had an… anomaly?”

  90. Don Guru de Bro

    As we all know cause they had an Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly! :)

  91. QuantumBraced

    Imagine the car insurance claim — burning rocket fuel and debris landed on my car.

  92. Robert Steinbeiss

    Rockets don`t fail, they sometimes just make alternative live choices. Think about a spectacular end everyone can see instead of burning up over the ocean where nobody notices.

  93. Name not found

    [revert to vehicle assembly building]

  94. Ruben Kelevra

    Would be super awesome if you could cover the failures of the first rockets/rocket motors. I’m very curious what went wrong in the early days

  95. mattcolver1

    Very good report. You did your research.
    I worked for McDonnell Douglas Delta program back in 1997. It was a sad day. 
    Steely eyed missile men get misty eyed when one of their birds fail.
    Funny story; Once at Vandenberg  one of the solid boosters was out of storage and sitting outside to get some testing. People were standing around near the nozzle. A plastic protective cap on the nozzle popped off with a good loud pop sound. I think the people standing by the nozzle had to go clean their shorts after that. 
    I assume the air heated up in the nozzle expanded enough to pop the cover off.

  96. Aaron Ray

    If your SRB has a hairline crack, you will not go to space today.

  97. Paul Drake

    My brother in law was in the blockhouse that day. Everyone had parked their cars right up close and consequently had them destroyed by falling debris. He used to have a lump of melted glass on his desk that was all that remained of his windshield.

  98. baddoggie101

    I worked on the upgrade of Delta RS-27 engine to Delta II back in ’87. I discovered a flaw in the engine analysis, in that they had failed to perform a fracture analysis on the turbopump main shaft. They had done a long duration durability analysis but that was insufficient for the cryogenic conditions to which the shaft was subject. They knew they had a flaw in the engine as they were losing one flight in 23 and half of those were due to engines going “boom”, but they had not been able to find the cause. After I pointed out the flaw, they changed the design and the reliability doubled.

  99. Matthew Bishop

    “What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger”.
    Composite material: “Well actually…”

  100. The NotFlat Earth

    Because they didn’t buy winrar after 40 days so they have problems with unzipping

Comments are closed.