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Space Science

Satellite Tip-Over Mishap Due to Missing Bolts 76

cradle writes "On September 6th, the $239 Million Dollar NOAA N-Prime Satellite toppled over and crashed to the floor of Lockheed Martin Space Systems' factory in Sunnyvale, CA, as it was being repositioned to replace an instrument. Today NASA released their report on the cause of the accident. It seems somebody forgot to check whether it was bolted down: '... during an operation that required repositioning (rotating) the TIROS NOAA N-PRIME spacecraft from a vertical to a horizontal position, the spacecraft slipped from the Turn-Over Cart (TOC) and fell to the floor. The spacecraft fell because the TIROS adapter plate to which it was mounted was not bolted to the TOC adapter plate with the required 24 bolts. The bolts were removed from the TOC by another project while the cart was in a common staging area, an activity which was not communicated to the NOAA project team.'"
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Satellite Tip-Over Mishap Due to Missing Bolts

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  • by Johnny Doughnuts ( 767951 ) * on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @03:43PM (#10443439)
    I bet the wise guy who decided to do that is 'bolting' right now. ;D
  • Reason for mishap: (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    "I didn't feel like it."

    And, another Simpsons quote:
  • by CheshireCatCO ( 185193 ) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @03:44PM (#10443453) Homepage
    That's exactly what they said had happened right after the accident. A detailed study of the cause is always in order, but I'm surprised that it took a year to verify what they apparently knew at that outset.
  • I'm sorry. (Score:4, Funny)

    by JVert ( 578547 ) <corganbilly@hotm ... m minus math_god> on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @03:45PM (#10443466) Journal
    I can't be expected to show up for school every day. So I get the flu and miss one day.

    Who knew "Lug nut day" would be soo important?
  • It took them a year to find that? No wonder it costs so much for these things. Al gore was right when he tried to remove gov't beauracracy....
    • Its a multi-million dollar project.

      Of course they're going to take their time to publish the full results of the mis-hap. Since its millions of dollars of tax-payer money, the report must be complete, accurate, and fully account for the entire mis-hap.

      Would you want to have to do such a report in a day? A week? I think a year is fine for this sort of event; assuming, of course, that in the meantime repair work was being done ... anyone know what sort of repair is required, and what state the project is
      • The satellite is scrap. Too many sensitive instruments inside were damaged.

        I received an email from my boss about this (lockheed internal email) the day after it happened. It said "See what happens when we dont follow our procedures?"

  • There's another article with the summary of the report [] on SpaceFlightNow.

    My personal summary: They forgot to put the bolts in. People got sloppy/lazy and just signed off on stuff without really looking at what they signed off on.

    • People got sloppy/lazy and just signed off on stuff without really looking at what they signed off on.
      I bet those people are glad nobody was under that thing when it fell. They'd be in a whole heap of trouble right now.
  • by going_the_2Rpi_way ( 818355 ) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @04:07PM (#10443765) Homepage
    Yeah that sucks but these things happen. Whether you're working on a 100K toy or a $300 million dollar one, every once and awhile there's going to be a mishap. Still, it sounds like there's a management problem here if people are going around removing bolts and the project team isn't even aware of it. If there's literally so few nuts and bolts handy for the various projects going on that they feel the need to cannabalize other projects, that's a disaster waiting to happen. I hope my neighbour doesn't decide to remove my brakes without letting me know.
    • If this was something like a burned out computer, a bolt shearing off, or the machine it was supposed to be bolted to failing and dumping the satellite on the ground, I'd agree with you. There are some things that just happen, even though every reasonable analysis says they won't.

      However, there are still some things that shouldn't go wrong, ever, and there's not an excuse for it after the fact. This is one of them. You don't pull parts off something that's supposed to work without replacing them. This is a
      • False. The vast majority of mechanical devices, especially the (mechanica) housings of computers have at least a 70% redundency of fasteners. Hell, a computer store could make money by selling product at time+materials based on turning in spare screws to recylcers.
    • Sure, there are going to be mishaps, but there didn't have to be. Having worked in the space industry and with some very expensive satellite equipment I can say that the number one concern is the health and safety of the people working on it and the number two concern is the health and safety of the instrument or satellite. I can't speak for all of the NASA institutions out there, but we have series of long checklists and procedures for when we work with the satellite. Another policy of ours is that if w
    • If there's literally so few nuts and bolts handy for the various projects going on that they feel the need to cannabalize other projects, that's a disaster waiting to happen.

      Its not that they cannibalized the cart. They used the cart to turn a different satellite that had a different configuration of bolts to hold it on. They had to remove the bolts so the satellite would fit on the cart properly. The problem was they never documented that they removed the bolts like they were supposed to, and then nev
  • Personally... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kozar_The_Malignant ( 738483 ) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @04:13PM (#10443861)
    If I was "repositioning" a $239,000,000.00 piece of hardware, I would visually check the bolts before starting the rotation. I would also check every other piece of safety equipment... twice. If the bolts were there, I would probably check the torque on them, if I hadn't tightened them myself.

    Jeeeez, people, this isn't rocket science. Well actually it is rocket science, but that's the difference between rocket science and stuff that blows up on the pad.
    • Re:Personally... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by boredMDer ( 640516 ) <> on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @04:28PM (#10444029)
      You say that now, but once you start working with that type of equipment every day, you get lazy.

      They had used the TOC a few days prior, and there was no documentation that the bolts had been removed, so they assumed that it was fine. If some that other project team hadn't forgotten the documentation this wouldnt've happened.
      • >You say that now, but once you start working with that type of equipment every day, you get lazy.

        Familiar -> Complacent -> Lazy -> Dead

        >They had used the TOC a few days prior, and there was no documentation that the bolts had been removed, so they assumed that it was fine. If some that other project team hadn't forgotten the documentation this wouldnt've happened.

        [Fred] OK Bob, let's run through the checklist and fire this 747 up.

        [Bob] Don't bother with the checklist. Some guys fl

    • Re:Personally... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BurritoJ ( 75275 )
      So, do you visually check the lug nuts on your car everyday before you drive off? How about after leaving it unattended in an airport parking lot for a couple of days? No? Well, that's the difference between being a driver and being an oozing pile of red goo on the highway...

      I think the transition for sentient being to red goo is much more motivating than the loss of a few dollars in hardware. That's just me though... YMMV
      • Re:Personally... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by JVert ( 578547 )
        At first I thought it was the CV joint but this car has like 30k miles! The car had a definate knock when we made a turn and had a slower knock as we drove straight. We looked under for any damage and everything look ok. While calling for a tow truck I stared at the car in disgust and noticed a few lug nuts missing... Curious I reached down and unscrewed another one with my fingers. Then I renember I did brakes a month ago... I thanked the operater for their time and said we wouldn't be needing any more hel
      • Re:Personally... (Score:2, Insightful)

        by zcat_NZ ( 267672 )
        Well yeah, but I also don't expect the guy in the next parking space to 'borrow' the lug nuts for any reason and I sure as hell hope that if he did, he'd leave a note on the windshield so I know about it before I drive away!
    • No, you would NOT simply

      "visually check the bolts before starting the rotation",

      you would

      "notice the Turn-Over Cart (TOC) to be in a common staging area, advancing the possibility that another project might have removed some bolts without communicating this to the NOAA team, and consequently realize the need to check whether the TIROS adapter plate, to which your TIROS NOAA N-PRIME spacecraft was mounted, was correctly bolted to the TOC adapter plate with the required 24 bolts before repositioning said s
    • You yourself probably operate a motor vehicle that uses lug nuts (or bolts) to keep the wheels on the car. When was the last time *you* checked them for proper torque?

      Mistake and omissions happen everywhere, and all the time.

  • If they were in the AirForce, the whole team would be in for a piss test to see who they can blame for it ;-)
  • by Picass0 ( 147474 ) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @04:21PM (#10443945) Homepage Journal
    You're inside or outside. Stop running through the door. We're not trying to air condition the whole street.

    Rinse off your dishes when you're done eating.

    Don't sass back to your teacher.

    Brush your teeth before bed.

    Put things back where you found them.

  • Ouch (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Pinkoir ( 666130 ) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @04:25PM (#10443996)
    As somebody who has personally watched stuff fall off of test tables as they rotate to vertical I can definitively say that that the sinking feeling in your stomache as the equipment slowly topples off the stand is exceeded only by the sinking feeling in your bowels when it shatters on the ground.

    I can only imagine the multiplicative factor involved when it's a $240M satellite instead of a $20K prototype.

    As for why they took a year to report out on the cause...the thing cost 240 million frickin' dollars! I'm sure the managers wanted more of an answer as to why it's in pieces on the ground than "Uh...we dropped it". Maybe they wanted to know "why it was dropped" and "how it was dropped" and "what is the likelyhood that a thing will be dropped again" and "where does that tech who dropped it live?"

    • That makes alot of sense actually.

      I'm picturing it taking a year before NASA stops screaming long enough to actually hear the answer. Did I say stop? I meant pause.

      Of course, when you hire Laurel and Hardy to move the stuff around... rg.jpg []
    • I work in the building next door to where this happened. We actually knew all this within days of the accident to a high degree of certainty. The only reason I can think of for the official report to have taken so long is that, given there was really no new information to discover, it was a low priority.
  • They're just trying to save some money. After all four bolts is $4000,000
  • LaForge! (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    More power to the structural integrity field!

  • Note that this refers to sept. 6, 2003, not 29 days ago.
  • John Bender, that is. Not the robot Bender.

    "Screws fall out all the time, the world's an imperfect place."
  • Your government at work again. The cause of this was reported on at the time of the incident, and now a year later, they've issued a lengthy report. The gist of it being: If not bolted down, things tend to fall over.
  • by d_p ( 63654 )
    That was Sept 6th, 2003. Those pictures have been circulating for a year.
  • Did anyone look at the report?
    It's a monstrous PDF 113 pages in length to describe every detail of the project. The beef doesn't start until page 62!!!

    The actual post-mortem and recommendations are only 20 pages, half of which are flow charts.
    Who puts this stuff together, I mean 82% of this document is FLUFF!!!! Is that why these things cost so much? Most of the money is spent on fluff?
  • In remarks earlier today, President Bush shrugged off the mishap, explaining, "Setbacks like this in the space program are to be expected. It's hard work! How can you expect them to succeed if you criticize their mistakes?"
  • Butterfingers!
  • by Down8 ( 223459 )
    This isn't news at all. This was known the same day that it happened. LM said so in their original press release - an engr hadn't check that the satelite was secured before rotating it.

  • **CRASH*** "D'OH!, Marge, somedody broke the satellite!...Gotta go now"
  • I studied the report, but nowhere I found any mention of who took out the 24 bolts. I figure this is the typical example of trying to save some bucks by having one set of high grade bolts being used for two TOC units. That would be a typical management type of decision that I have seen made so often, trying to save on small things not realizing that they could cause large costs elsewhere. But the funny thing is that those type of decisions never end up in this type of reports, because they reveal the deeper
    • I guess I am being a bit redundant bit its worth pointing out. The bolts were removed to allow a different satellite to be adapted to this TOC unit. The other satellite didnt have the same bolt pattern, so they removed the ones they didnt need (actually they would have been in the way). This is a regular occurance and is supposed to be documented.

      Now, why the people mounting the original satellite didnt notice the missing bolts, I dont know. Screw ups on both teams caused the accident...
      • Okay that makes some sense. If I understand it correctly, it means that in between the bolts and the ring were replaced by another ring for another satelite, and that afterwards these people removed that ring and replaced it by the original ring, but did not put on the bolts again.

        Yet, again, I could raise the question why they did not use one TOC per satelite, and keep it mounted on it all the time? What's the cost of a TOC compared to the satelite? I also wonder how much time is wasted with putting the

  • This is almost as bad as the IT guy who never puts the screws back in the computer cases when he's done.
  • How much actual damage was there, and what is the current state of the project?

Syntactic sugar causes cancer of the semicolon. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982