The paper describes a numerical study of a potential accident scenario of the space shuttle, operating at the same flight conditions as flight 51L, the Challenger accident. The interest in performing this simulation is derived by evidence that indicates that the event itself did not exert large enough blast loading on the shuttle to break it apart. Rather, the quasi-steady aerodynamic loading on the damaged, unbalance vehicle caused the break-up. Despite the enormous explosive potential of the shuttle total fuel load (both liquid and solid), the post accident explosives working group estimated the maximum energy involvement to be equivalent to about five hundreds of pounds of TNT. This understanding motivated the simulation described here. To err on the conservative side, we modeled the event as an explosion, and used the maximum energy estimate. We modeled the transient detonation of a 500 lbs spherical charge of TNT, placed at the main engine, and the resulting blast wave propagation about the complete stack. Tracking of peak pressures and impulses at hundreds of locations on the vehicle surface indicate that the blast load was insufficient to break the vehicle, hence demonstrating likely crew survivability through such an event.

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Published on 01/01/2000

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