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Mysterious Sound Waves Can Destroy Rockets 193

Ponca City, We love you writes "Scientists believe that powerful and unstable sound waves, created by energy supplied by the combustion process, were the cause of rocket failures in several US and Russian rockets. They have also observed these mysterious oscillations in other propulsion and power-generating systems such as missiles and gas turbines. Now, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a liquid rocket engine simulator and imaging techniques to help demystify the cause of these explosive sound waves and bring scientists a little closer to being able to understand and prevent them. The team was able to clearly demonstrate that the phenomenon manifests itself in the form of spinning acoustic waves that gain destructive power as they rotate around the rocket's combustion chamber at a rate of 5,000 revolutions per second. Researchers developed a low-pressure combustor to simulate larger rocket engines then used a very-high-speed camera with fiber optic probes to observe the formation and behavior of excited spinning sound waves within the engine. 'This is a very troublesome phenomenon in rockets,' said Professor Ben Zinn. 'These spinning acoustic oscillations destroy engines without anyone fully understanding how these waves are formed. Visualizing this phenomenon brings us a step closer to understanding it.'"

Computers are unreliable, but humans are even more unreliable. Any system which depends on human reliability is unreliable. -- Gilb