Columbia disaster

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Columbia disaster

Unread postby MGmirkin » Sun Jun 15, 2008 9:00 pm

It seems Space.com and/or NASA has provided inconsistent answers with respect to Columbia and the possibility of plasma / electrical interactions.

(Columbia FAQ - PLASMA: What is it?)
http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/co ... tml#plasma

[IMPORTANT NOTE: Officials now say that the hot gas that surrounded Columbia and appeared to breach the craft had probably not yet reached the plasma state.]

Plasma is sometimes called a fourth state of matter (in addition to solid, liquid, gas). It's created when gas is superheated and electrons are stripped out, leaving electrically charged particles.

Plasma occurs naturally in interstellar space and in the atmospheres of our Sun and other stars. Scientists also create plasma in labs in order to study emissions from the violent regions around black holes. A fluorescent lamp is an example of a highly contained plasma.

Plasma reaching as much as 3,000 degrees surrounds the shuttle during re-entry as the craft plows through Earth's atmosphere. Plasma can also be created by impacts from meteoroids or space debris. NASA has not said how Columbia's problem-causing plasma was allowed under the craft's skin, though they know there must have been some sort of hole or gash.

How plasma can damage a satellite. NASA says hot gas, but probably not plasma, breached Columbia.

[animation]


Satellite operators worry about impact-generated plasma. Even a relatively small meteoroid would vaporize upon impact, generating a cloud of plasma. (IMPORTANT: Small meteoroids hit shuttles frequently without causing problems other than minor pits in heat tiles.)

On a satellite, however, electrical parts are exposed. Because the plasma is electrically charged, short circuits can result. An electrical current flows from one electrical part of the satellite to another location, through the cloud, and damages an instrument. It is similar to the damage a lightning strike might cause.

In 1993, during the August Perseid meteor shower, a meteor hit an Olympus communications satellite. The impact formed a plasma cloud, and the craft's attitude control system was zapped. By the time operators could stabilize it, they had depleted all of its attitude-control propellant and the satellite was lost.

Continuing Columbia Coverage | Archive of all Columbia Stories

(Emphases mine, mostly)

So, let's take their contradictory statements one at a time (approximately in order):

IMPORTANT NOTE: Officials now say that the hot gas that surrounded Columbia and appeared to breach the craft had probably not yet reached the plasma state.


Appears to affirm that something gaseous+ breached the craft. Noncommittal about whether it was "plasma" or just "hot gas."

Plasma reaching as much as 3,000 degrees surrounds the shuttle during re-entry as the craft plows through Earth's atmosphere.


Appears to indicate that, as the shuttle descends through the atmosphere, a plasma forms around the shuttle. One would assume that means around the wings as well as the body?

NASA has not said how Columbia's problem-causing plasma was allowed under the craft's skin, though they know there must have been some sort of hole or gash.


Appears to affirms that something penetrated under the craft's skin and indicates that it was plasma. Adds that there must have been some kind of hole or gash through which the plasma entered. One might surmise that the portion of the wing where there was suspected existing damage would be a likely weak point through which something might inevitably enter.

NASA says hot gas, but probably not plasma, breached Columbia.


The explanation then reverts back to the noncommittal statement that it may or may not have been a plasma or a "hot gas."

It seems there are still questions that need answering.

Was the "hot gas" around the shuttle actually a plasma? Keeping in mind that even "gases" with extremely low ionization can still behave like a plasma, even dusty plasmas where charged dust grains behave in a manner similar to plasma.

Was it the "hot gas" / plasma that did Columbia in? If so, through what mechanism: simple mechanics / thermal stresses (heat melting away everything) or an induced electrical malfunction or electrical damage (Electrical Discharge Machining [EDM]) to the structure due to the conductivity of plasma?

One (such as myself) is immediately reminded of the space tether experiment that ended prematurely.

It took a considerable amount of detective work to figure out what had happened. Back on Earth the frayed end of the tether aboard the space shuttle was examined, and pieces of the cable were tested in a vacuum chamber. The nature of the break suggested it was not caused by excessive tension, but rather that an electric current had melted the tether.

The electric conductor of the tether was a copper braid wound around a nylon string. It was encased in teflon-like insulation, with an outer cover of kevlar, a tough plastic also used in bullet-proof vests, all this inside a nylon sheath. The culprit turned out to be the innermost core, made of a porous material which, during its manufacture, trapped many bubbles of air, at atmospheric pressure.

Later vacuum-chamber experiments suggested that the unwinding of the reel uncovered pinholes in the insulation. That in itself would not have caused a major problem, because the ionosphere around the tether, under normal circumstance, was too rarefied to divert much of the current. However, the air trapped in the insulation changed that. As it bubbled out of the pinholes, the high voltage ("electric pressure") of the nearby tether, about 3500 volts, converted it into a plasma (in a way similar to the ignition of a fluorescent tube), a relatively dense one and therefore a much better conductor of electricity.

The instruments aboard the tether satellite showed that this plasma diverted through the pinhole about 1 ampere, a current comparable to that of a 100-watt bulb (but at 3500 volts!), to the metal of the shuttle and from there to the ionospheric return circuit. That current was enough to melt the cable.

As the broken end whipped away from the shuttle, the plasma established electric contact with the ionosphere directly. The satellite on the distant end monitored the current: after about half a minute it stopped, then it reignited and flowed again for about another half minute, stopping for good when (presumably) all the trapped air was gone.


In any event, it should make for some interesting discussion...

Cheers,
~Michael Gmirkin
Last edited by nick c on Tue Mar 29, 2011 8:59 am, edited 2 times in total.
Reason: thread titled changed/ merged threads
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Re: Columbia, Plasma, and Much Hemming / Hawing...

Unread postby viscount aero » Sun Jun 22, 2008 6:13 pm

They often use the term "hot gas" to describe nebulae and other celestial objects that glow colourfully. They refuse to call it plasma even though, contradicting themselves, they allege fully that about 99% of all matter is "plasma."
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Re: Columbia, Plasma, and Much Hemming / Hawing...

Unread postby MGmirkin » Sun Jun 22, 2008 9:44 pm

Yup, it boggles the mind!

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Megalightning and the demise of STS-107 Columbia

Unread postby davesmith_au » Sun Jun 21, 2009 7:12 am

Giday all.

I considered reviving one of the old threads on this topic, but they were down on the NIAMI board and I would like this thread to remain scientific and serious. So PLEASE keep conspiracy theories and wild conjecture out of this thread, or they WILL be deleted.

As many of you know, the original thread on forum 1.0 contained some good information (and some not so good), and I undertook to perform my own study into the published material about the incident. It started out as a "paper" but soon grew to a host of info which needed coverage, so I have now published a new website which has the results of my entire study on it.

http://www.columbiadisaster.info/

The site is completely referenced and there are links to all the relevant sites so that folk can verify it for themselves. It will take a good hour or two to digest everything there, it's quite comprehensive.

I'll be interested in all sensible discussions of the site, and may in fact link it to this thread if all goes well, for public comment. So, let me know what y'all think! And by all means, tell your friends about it...

Cheers, Dave.
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Re: Megalightning and the demise of STS-107 Columbia

Unread postby Tzunamii » Sun Jun 21, 2009 11:07 am

Great job Dave :D
Started going through it, Great presentation so far.
I've passed this on to my peeps, awaiting feedback.
GG!
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Re: Megalightning and the demise of STS-107 Columbia

Unread postby mharratsc » Sun Jun 21, 2009 12:40 pm

I saw the video of the megalightning myself- it was pretty damn convincing, I'll say. It is maddening to think that even with deaths (and future lives) in the equation, they would still turn to their damnable existing paradyme like some religious icon from a sanctuary, rather than examine all possibilities that might put future lives in peril. Unconscionable.

Mike H.
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Re: Megalightning and the demise of STS-107 Columbia

Unread postby Lloyd » Sun Jun 21, 2009 10:02 pm

* Dave, you must have a lot of free time. Excellent article. That's also an excellent shot of the "anomaly" photo showing at least two stars and the power lines.
Image
* In about the 4th paragraph of Section 4.c, you quote the CAIB report.
A still image taken from California was submitted to NASA by a member of the public. A superficial look at the image suggested that it might record an anomalous re-entry event that was claimed to be lightning striking the Orbiter. Our analysis suggested that the pattern was due to camera vibrations during a long-exposure. A separate upper atmospheric scientific team also investigated the image. The results of those analyses are being reported separately.

* Then you point out later, "Image #3 does not display any blurring of either the powerlines or the stars due to camera shake."
* Indeed, while the purple zig-zag line could be produced by a shaky camera shooting a bright purple dot of light, it would be impossible to get such an image without all the other objects in the image also showing the same pattern of zig-zag motion.
* It seems that only a person who isn't capable of normal reasoning ability would be able to actually believe that the zig-zag line was caused by the camera shaking during filming. A double exposure could explain it, but then it would be quite a task or coincidence to get the shuttle's trail and the zig-zag line to meet and match up in a double exposure.
* It looks to me like someone high up in NASA or higher did not want this anomaly investigated. If so, why?
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Re: Megalightning and the demise of STS-107 Columbia

Unread postby davesmith_au » Sun Jun 21, 2009 10:40 pm

Lloyd wrote:Dave, you must have a lot of free time.

ROFLMAO... Two years of it, in fact...

Unfortunately Lloyd, that image and the others I have used are screen-grabs from the documentary "Megalightning", and as such are not of the best quality to make definitive judgements.

The original images have never been made public, which really is a dis-service to humanity, IMHO.

The main point of departure from the originals to the screen-grabs is that the screen-grabs look much darker than was described by the reporter from SFC who witnessed the originals. She described a "crisp background of stars" (implying more than one or two) which is difficult to see in the screengrabs. Likewise the exact (GPS) location from which they were taken, which combined with the known position of various stars and/or planets and the known path of the orbiter, could be extracted the exact time the image was taken. Though by all accounts using the available data it does seem to coincide with "Communications event #10".

There is a shcool of thought that the shutter was opened with the orbiter already in frame, the camera wobbled, then settled, and the pre-existing plasma trail (to the left of the anomaly) was then slowly rendered onto the film during the long exposure. BUT this explanation still fails to account for the continued 'wavering' of the most central part of the plasma trail for the remainder of the image. Again, without better quality images this is a difficult matter to settle.

So what is really required to properly assess the image for camera shake would be the original, which incidentally I asked Goldie for but he was not forthcoming.

All in all it seems the main reason for discounting an electrical event (so it HAD to be camera shake...) was the clear-sky conditions, but this is very short-sighted IMHO especially with the recent advances in knowledge of atmospheric discharges.

Anyhow, thanks for the input, it really is a fascinating event to study, and I had a ball doing so.
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Re: Megalightning and the demise of STS-107 Columbia

Unread postby nick c » Mon Jun 22, 2009 7:35 am

Nice detailed work, Dave.
I cannot understand how anyone could be serious about the camera shake theory. If that is NASA's official explanation then they either know nothing about photography or just want the image "to go away." If there was camera shake, the shuttle's plasma trail would not be a straight line while underneath the artifact (purple corkscrew light) of the shake, also some residue of the shake should be detectable in other parts of the image. Furthermore, the purple corkscrew merges perfectly with the plasma trail which then becomes noticeably brighter. This is obvious even from the lower quality screen captures.
One thing that may be determined from looking at the original...does the purple corkscrew go behind the shuttle's plasma trail or in front? (at the point where they first cross, before the merger.)

Anyway, well done.

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Re: Megalightning and the demise of STS-107 Columbia

Unread postby redeye » Mon Jun 22, 2009 7:55 am

This is great work Dave.

(Yoav Yair) On the night of January 22nd, note this first meteor coming, a second one come from ... we see lightning below the horizon, and this is the sprite.


The crew of Columbia and the mission planners clearly thought that upper atmospheric discharges were worth investigating before the mission. How can they justify not investigating this properly after the event.

Cheers!
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Re: Megalightning and the demise of STS-107 Columbia

Unread postby mharratsc » Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:22 am

I hate to say it (seriously) but... what IF they had said "Yes, it was an atmospheric discharge event that we were completely unprepared for. Sorry!"

Remember how long the first mishap grounded the shuttles? It wasn't like in the Old Days when the said "Crap, we lost a rocket. Quick let's build another one!" Also I'm not attempting to justify their covering this up and not getting a grip on figuring out a better way of charge equalization for high speed space vehicles, but you can see how they are SO protective of what budget they have left. I can imagine they're not willing to jeopardize what little funding they're getting in... even as callous and self-serving it is when people's lives are at stake.

They need to get a grip on re-entry, and ALL the physics associated with it. Clear weather launches and recoveries do not adequately cover the ionization/equalization issue. Hell- do they even put static wicks on spacecraft?? All I've seen them concern themselves with is thermal ablation :\

One way or the other- this is something they're going to have to face, and no amount of smokescreen, mirrors, makeup, or trick lighting is going to hide the issue of charge equalization for long. This should be their #1 effort right now, since it affects the performance and survivability of all manned and even unmanned missions going forward. Propulsion is getting better and better, and that means vehicles will go faster and faster- and that means that the issues of charge equalization aren't going to be as easy to deal with as before.

They need to 'fess up to the government, explain the situation, and see if they can get some funding for it. I seriously doubt Congress would turn down something critical to crew safety and mission survivability, after all. They keep trying to hide it- and they'll end up watching one of the private sector space ventures figure it out and paying for it in reputation (and probably patent rights) down the road.

Mike H.
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Re: Megalightning and the demise of STS-107 Columbia

Unread postby davesmith_au » Mon Jun 22, 2009 7:10 pm

Yep Mike, you've hit the nail fair and square on the ol' noggin.

I'm wondering now how much Richard Branson and friends know about this sort of thing, and if they're giving consideration to it all with regard to "space tourism". It's bad enough to lose a bunch of astronauts, it would be a whole nother kettle of fish to have "Joe Public" involved in a similar incident, it's the type of thing which could sink a huge company overnight. Whilst they don't have to deal with the same type of reentry speeds/temperatures, I think they would do well to further investigate ionospheric discharges, and plan flights to not coincide with crossing the terminator, especially near coastlines. We really know so little about these animals that caution should be the order of the day.

Might have to send Dick an email and have him look over the site...

Cheers, Dave.
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Re: Megalightning and the demise of STS-107 Columbia

Unread postby electrodogg1 » Tue Jun 23, 2009 9:05 am

Say Dave,

As I retired lawyer, I could find out how to make a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to NASA to release the photos to me. I doubt they can make a serious national security claim. Are you interested?
Best,

David
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Re: Megalightning and the demise of STS-107 Columbia

Unread postby Brigit Bara » Tue Jun 23, 2009 11:59 am

If some of us aren't commenting, you can just take that as awed silence!
“Oh for shame, how these mortals put the blame upon us gods, for they say evils come from us, when it is they rather who by their own recklessness win sorrow beyond what is given…”
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Re: Megalightning and the demise of STS-107 Columbia

Unread postby MGmirkin » Tue Jun 23, 2009 5:07 pm

davesmith_au wrote:The main point of departure from the originals to the screen-grabs is that the screen-grabs look much darker than was described by the reporter from SFC who witnessed the originals. She described a "crisp background of stars" (implying more than one or two) which is difficult to see in the screengrabs.


Have you considered a FOIA request on any/all original images available to NASA and/or any documents from research groups examining the photos? (Don't know if it would be FOIA eligible, at least the image itself as copyright probably rests with the original photographer, but any reports drawn up by NASA should be FOIA-able)...

Best,
~Michael Gmirkin
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