Why The Delta III Rocket Exploded On Its First Flight – Why Rockets Fail

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In 1998 Boeing debuted the new Delta III rocket with a payload demonstrating the larger capacity of the latest evolution of the Delta series rockets. However 72 seconds into the launch the vehicle was lost. The reason for the failure boiled down to a guidance system which used up the limited guidance capability of the strap on solid rocket boosters and ultimately lost control.

Lots of data was taken from Boeing’s Delta III Payload guide

Also Ed Kyle’s history of the Delta III provides lots of good links:

  1. mikldude

    Great explanation of the rocket mate , 6.51 the engine under power gimbaling looks brutal , hard yakka for the hydraulics .

  2. dosmastrify

    So this is essentially what we are waiting to see when the inflight abort test is done by spacex?

  3. Tom Cumming

    Those damn PID values…

  4. Maap

    6:41 weird morph

  5. Ben Chapple

    Here are a couple of rockets that blew up. Fly safe!

  6. Andrew Chuprevich

    Wouldn’t fins help with controls and aide the thrust gimbles?

  7. Herb Fong photography

    Really awesome!

  8. treaps

    the “fly safe” is especially ominous after a video describing rocketry failures…

  9. bluidguy

    Very interesting!

  10. Martin D A

    It was the MCAS system.

  11. umad42

    God damn Scott Rocket scientists love your channel

  12. Ariel Wollinger

    dual scott manley @6:42

  13. NRM 88

    Notification squad

  14. A Barbarian Horde

    And a quite serious “Fly Safe” today

  15. Alex Landherr

    At 6:36, quite a Kerbal error.

  16. Tfin

    Wait, I know: the CoM was too far aft!

  17. Sean McDonough

    7:30 – Why didn’t they design the booster nozzles with a big spring or something to force them back to the neutral position in the event of a loss of hydraulic pressure?

  18. richfiles π

    Designed for 75 seconds o burn time, and the hydraulics depleted a mere 10 seconds early…
    It’s tragic, but better that it was caught ASAP, and not later.

  19. Jim Beck

    Flight Termination Routine=Use HE to blow rocket up! Hopefully before it hits something important.

  20. Luis Abelardo

    So esentially, a timed MechJeb. =)

  21. niu niu

    Yes ,we do 737-MAX again!

  22. Erik Moore

    This is my favorite style of video of yours. Great video

  23. Neo Morph

    Been there, done that with a bad PID equation lol.

  24. Interdimensional

    Were these modes determined from the mathematics, or through simulation?

  25. MarcD

    Can’t even begin to imagine how awkward and shitty you’d feel with a customer watching their payload worth $millions fall in flames into the ocean…
    Ight imma head out.

  26. dm12377

    Can you do a video on the failure of the first Titan IIIE launch? The one caused by a guy retiring and taking his rocket assembly tricks with him.

  27. Phil

    Control systems rule #1: know your plant.

  28. sukubann

    awesome tale :)

  29. George Malekos Jr

    Another fantastic video. Im a little bit smarter then when i woke up!! Thank you Scott!!..check six buddy!!

  30. Andres Paez

    Hey Scott, why we have no nuclear rockets? Thank you

  31. Paul

    Sounds a little like MCAS

  32. Sci Fience

    please do a video on Direct Fusion Drives and Torchdrives

  33. Anklejbiter

    ~ 0:50 Looks like a Gosper Glider

  34. THICC1

    Ooooo almost at 1 million

  35. Adam Roodog

    6:42 did i just see the matrix?

  36. Asger Vestbjerg

    Great overview as always
    Thanks for sharing :-)

  37. Paul Freedman

    My goodness Scott, you are on a roll with RUDding rockets, aren’t you? :)

  38. Against NAZO!

    Thank you Scott.
    Your Videos remind me, that there are people with same interest. For 10 Minutes I forget lovesickness and trouble in private life.

  39. Wroger Wroger

    Ahhhh to quote the good Mr Rooth, “Out of little eggs do great monsters hatch”.

  40. Nick Rios

    I love this video, it has it all.

  41. Dan Simmons

    Well done production Scott. Thank you!

  42. BSpeakman80

    “Mcdonnell.” You hungry pops?

  43. fellpower

    Heyyy, is there a Rifter in the Back? ;)

  44. Ziginox

    I appreciate that the shuttle you used in this intro is Endeavour, as its final flight was on my birthday!

  45. Nick Basel

    I absolutely love your videos like this and learn about rockets and satellites! I’m a huge fan of the Delta II and I always wondered why it never flew! Thanks Scott keep it up!!

  46. justin h

    Awesome video, great explanation! I can’t imagine how much research you do for each video like this. Thanks!

  47. ttystikk rocks

    Always appreciate your commentary and analysis. I learn a bit with every segment!

  48. Daniel Rucci

    @DJSnM are there any good stories of rockets that had similar simulation/algorithm issues but just “barely” got to orbit?

  49. Geoff

    Fly safe indeed – informative and brilliantly delivered as always.

  50. Skippy

    hello Mr. Manley, I was wondering if you could tell me were you got those star-ship models on the shelf behind you. love the video as well :D

  51. NuVanDibe

    i’ve had ships in ksp fail for the precise same reason.

  52. Sean McDonough

    6:41 – Why didn’t it detect that it was overcorrecting and automatically decrease the gain in its flight-control system to compensate?

  53. AE Reilly

    I swear I saw The Coyote riding on the D3!

  54. Dangermouse

    Love these ‘Why rockets fail’ Vids, and the time you put into researching and making them 👍
    More please 😊

  55. Demonic Koala

    So what I’m hearing is that the missile knows where it is at all times

  56. Aphgaa

    AW YES! I love Why Rockets Fail episodes!

  57. Railgap Esoterica

    “When your Delta Three rocket is oversteered, you will not go to space today…”

  58. d3u1d4e

    5:11 Nice Mathworks Simulink model!

  59. Two Eye

    When will they finally make a Delta V? The perfect rocket name

  60. Papi Uuhmelmehahay

    The Delta IV should be called “The DINO” for Delta in name only.

  61. graymalkinmendel

    off topic- hearing the word “gimblling” puts a smile on my face every time – thank you Lewis Carroll

  62. Chris Hayes

    That in-flight computer must’ve been a beast to work on.

  63. TheSpacecraftX

    6:08 SAS wobble IRL.

  64. Craig L. Young

    When you do this series you should have your daughter singing her song in the background while you explain what happen.

  65. Ben Turner

    What was that transition at 6:42? That kinda hurt my eyes.

  66. Shawn Elliott

    4:07 – As soon as you said “Three of the solid rocket boosters had gimbaling nozzles”, I instantly knew what went wrong — but I watched the rest of the video anyway.

  67. tx2sturgis

    Too much play in the steering wheel. I get that because I also drove old classic cars with sloppy ‘gimbals’….

  68. AnimeSunglasses

    I do like it whenever we get a good ol’ “Fly Safe (This was How Not To)”

  69. Choke And Bite

    Of the millions or billions of YouTubers out there, your “hello I’m, Scott Manley” in that deep, accented voice is my favorite greeting 👍🏻

  70. 4one14

    Love these, they’re like mayday/air crash investigation only for rocket flights!

  71. nerdanderthal IDontLikeGooglePlus

    Sounds a lot like a computerized version of PIO – Pilot Induced Oscillation.

  72. PsychoLucario

    killed because someone screwed up the tuning parameters just like my senior year modeling project, though that was just water valves

  73. desertfox2403

    Hey Scott, can you go over launch termination systems? Is it explosive pyrotechnics or is it some other system?

  74. Robert Petersen

    I love this series. “Space is hard” in action.

  75. Owen Miller

    I have a question Scott. Do the lightbulbs on the launch tower break during every launch? Do a lot of launch platform systems need maintenance after a launch?

  76. Rob Highfill

    The Delta II was finally retired last year, and the “single stick” Delta IV retired this year. Note that of the “Delta” family only the Delta IV Heavy is still in use.

  77. thenorup

    Say it with me:
    “Check yo stagin’!”

  78. Péter Szabados

    So it was a somewhat similar failure than with the Ariane 5: they made a more powerful hardware, but forget to update the software to take it into account.

  79. bisbeejim

    This sounds like my KSP rockets, with similar results. Okay it sounds just like my KSP rockets with THE SAME results!

  80. Tuning3434

    Man, those shuttle SRB’s are fast reacting!

  81. David Messer

    I saw a Delta II launch once in the early 70s or 80s. We were taking a tour of the cape and just at the end of it, the tour guide asked us if we’d like to see a rocket launch. Naturally, everyone on the bus was willing to stay a little longer…
    The bleachers we went to were very close to the pad. I don’t know how far, but I bet it wasn’t more than a couple of miles. (Safety wasn’t as big of a concern in those days.) Anyway, the launch was at sunset and the combination of the low light, close distance, and the solid rocket boosters made it the most spectacular launch I’ve ever seen, and I have seen a Saturn V, a couple of space shuttles and a Falcon 9.
    Truly a great treat!

  82. htomerif

    :D thats my favorite programming problem! Changing control outputs to direct a system state that has control and sensing latency. It comes up eeeeverywhere, from simple dc voltage regulators to drone flight controls to massive power plant burner and turbine controls. Its one of the reasons not to buy a knock-off hoverboard: even if it had identical electronics (which it won’t) it probably has garbage-tier control programming and will throw you off the first chance it gets.

  83. NATO Plays

    The rocket knows where it is at all times. It knows this because it knows where it isn’t. By subtracting where it is from where it isn’t, or where it isn’t from where it is (whichever is greater), it obtains a difference, or deviation. The guidance subsystem uses deviations to generate corrective commands to drive the rocket from a position where it is to a position where it isn’t, and arriving at a position where it wasn’t, it now is. Consequently, the position where it is, is now the position that it wasn’t, and it follows that the position that it was, is now the position that it isn’t.
    In the event that the position that it is in is not the position that it wasn’t, the system has acquired a variation, the variation being the difference between where the rocket is, and where it wasn’t. If variation is considered to be a significant factor, it too may be corrected by the GEA. However, the rocket must also know where it was.
    The rocket guidance computer scenario works as follows. Because a variation has modified some of the information the rocket has obtained, it is not sure just where it is. However, it is sure where it isn’t, within reason, and it knows where it was. It now subtracts where it should be from where it wasn’t, or vice-versa, and by differentiating this from the algebraic sum of where it shouldn’t be, and where it was, it is able to obtain the deviation and its variation, which is called error.

  84. alexanderx33

    Sounds exactly like an sas malfunction in ksp. Reduce gimbal range or fin control authority.

  85. phunkydroid

    TFW you look at youtube and see a video from Scott Manley posted 21 seconds ago.

  86. Dag-Erling Smørgrav

    When you said “the third Delta III” I half expected you to follow up with “burned down, fell over, and _then_ sank into the swamp” 😂

  87. n2daseco12

    Delta III destroyed by aggresive steering
    Seems like a reason for my rocket to be destroyed in ksp

  88. Kevin Street

    I love this series! They’re like detective stories…with rockets. This one is a lot easier to understand than that 1950’s one from a few months back.

  89. tehbonehead

    🎶”You will not go to space today…”🎶

  90. Dylan Huculak

    They say space is hard..
    So you know that it’s okay
    That your rocket just crashed into the ground
    and you didn’t go to space today

  91. Chris Gonzales

    PIO – pilot induced oscillation. When you start over compensating for your over controlling.

  92. The Exoplanets Channel

    Congratulations in advance for reaching *1 million subscribers!*

  93. Gary Walker

    As my engineering prof was fond of saying “Then bad things happen in rapid succession!”

  94. Pronto

    Takeaway: don’t trust the new one just because the old one was great. Let some fanboys test out the new one, and then invest if they survive that test.

  95. Steve Robbins

    I worked on the RS-27A abd RS-68 engines. Specifically, I designed and built automated test systems for their engine control units (ECU). So your video brings back memories for me.
    The RS-27A had a dome-shaped ECU that was sometimes called the “salad bowl”. It’s logic circuitry used diodes and electromechanical relays. The guy who designed the ECU (Rudy something) was a young engineer when he did it, but when I joined to project (to replace the ancient ECU tester with a modern one in the late ’90s) Rudy was an old fart and I went to his retirement party. The old tester was so poorly designed that it didn’t work whenever it was raining outside. Seriously.
    The RS-68 ECU used microcontrollers and FPGAs. The guy who ran that team frequently called himself “a damn fine systems engineer” but in reality he had NO IDEA what he was doing; he just wanted a really big team so he could feel important. For example, there were about 20 software engineers on the team to design firmware that had to fit in a 2kB ROM. Once, someone raised the question of software reliability, and this guy laughed like it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard, and said “software doesn’t break!” with attitude in his voice, like he was talking to an idiot. I think a few months after that an Ariane rocket blew up because of a firmware bug in it’s ECU. I could fill a book with all the stupid, ignorant things that guy did.

  96. Ralph Waters

    For several years in the early 1990’s I wrote the animation software for the city of LaCanada Flintridge’s parade floats in the Tournament of Roses. The animation system used hydraulic cylinders and motors powered by a V8 engine, while an inline 4 drove the whole 30-ton behemoth down Colorado Blvd. My 100 pages of 8080 assembly language software used a VERY simple proportional algorithm (the “P” in “PID”) to command a correction proportional to measured error, and in this application it worked quite well. However, in 1993 we started using a new computer built to integrate a Pro-Log industrial computer rack with a bank of Rexroth electronic control amplifiers that drove the actual valves. Unbeknownst to any of us, a wiring error accidentally enabled a time delay function in these amplifiers, set to random values since we thought it was disabled. We discovered that some channels would start oscillating while others worked just fine, and it really gave me the vapors while I froze my a$$ off at 3am on Dec 29th. An immense (10-ft) penguin character on the side of a paddy wagon oscillated so badly that the head broke off and nearly landed on one of our volunteers. Floats are build from welded steel and this head was NOT soft under all those flowers. It could have been VERY serious, but fortunately, nobody was injured because we all sorta kept our distance during these tests. The parade was a disaster for us; we didn’t discover the cause until the post-mortem analysis. However, all these years later, I find some consolation in the company of the Delta III development team. They say float animation is not rocket science, but we do have a few problems in common! Today I say, “Go Atlas V! Go Starliner!” and frankly, “Go SpaceX!” – – We GOTTA get back up there on our own, for crying out loud!

  97. sharpfang

    Lesson learned: Pull that control authority slider on your gimbals down, people!

  98. gajbooks

    Many of my KSP creations have been destroyed because of overzealous gimbaling.

  99. threadnaught

    My favorite part of this video is at 5:16, where they have the “Laws of Nature” as a component of their control system

  100. mattcolver1

    I worked on Delta III. I was part of the team that developed the composite components: The 4 meter fairing, The 4 meter 1666 Payload Attach fitting and the 4 meter composite interstage where the new was upperstage hung inside.
    It was heart breaking to watch that 1st launch. When I put many hours and heart and soul into developing a new launch vehicle then watch it blow up almost brought me to tears.

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