Day 501 – New thing go bang

It’s only been a week (note the literal “7 days ago” on the screenshot below) since our occasionally electricity-generating parastatal Eskom proudly, officially added a new big, dirty, coal-fired power station to its big, dirty, coal-fired power station collection:

And it was last night at around 11pm that Unit 4 at Medupi exploded after a hydrogen leak was apparently not dealt with correctly. Hydrogen is used as a coolant [why? Well, see Hydrogen Cools Well, But Safety Is Crucial], some of it leaked and instead of flushing the area with CO2 as per the standard procedure, some air was used at the wrong point and that exploded the place a bit. Here’s Sikonathi Mantshantsha (you may remember him from the proud “it’ll last 50 years” quote just above) again:

“The incident occurred during the activity to displace hydrogen with carbon dioxide and air respectively, for the purposes of finding an external leak. Following the power station preliminary investigation, it appears that while performing this activity air was introduced into the generator at a point where hydrogen was still present in the generator at sufficient quantities to create an explosive mixture, which ignited and resulted in the explosion.”

“It also appears that there was a deviation from the procedure for carrying out this activity.”

Here are some photos: Oops.

I know that it’s deeply uncool (literally) to use coal to make electricity these days, but in South Africa’s defence, two things:
Firstly, coal is plentiful, local, and wonderfully cheap and easy to heap into Mpumalanga power stations, and we simply don’t have the money or the technology for anything else at the moment (shout at me all you want, I get it, but like it or not, you’re going to need a billion* wind farms to match the 4.8GW capacity that each of Kusile or Medupi provides (when they are working), and secondly, two units at Medupi aren’t using any coal at the moment because one has exploded and another has tripped because the one next door exploded.

Another win for the environment.

We’re probably looking at a few more billions of Rands and a couple more years before this 800MW generator is back online, which given our continuing precarious relationship between supply and demand of the sparky stuff, is not good news.

And who knows how long it will last next time? Hopefully a bit longer than a week.

* back of a fag packet calculation

Big Bang Theory

Actually, the “Theory” bit is wholly extraneous. When your country’s biggest ammunition dump (at Balakleya, Kharkov) catches fire*, there’s no theory involved. It’s all about the big bangs.

This one is good, watch especially for the explosion at 2:06, the Ukrainian expression of surprise at 2:07, the ensuing shockwave at 2:16 and the slightly more animated Ukrainian expression of surprise at 2:18.

Basically we’re looking at big, uncontrolled, massively dangerous fireworks here. And how cool is that?

Equally cool is that someone took to the skies remotely with their drone and recorded it all from above, adding some wholly inappropriate background music.

Look out for that same HUGE explosion about halfway through this one, forming what looks like a terrifying smoky jellyfish.



* or is sabotaged by the Russians. 

Told you so

Remember that static fire anomaly SpaceX explosion? Of course you do.

Well now, suddenly, it turns out that sabotage might be the cause of the big bang. You’ll recall that we’d already hinted that there was more to the incident than met the eye, with our in-depth investigation into errant punctuation being a possible catalyst for the unfortunate and unplanned detonation of the rocket.


Thanks, Jerm.

But we were just joking.

This might be for real. Gosh. James Bond eat your heart out (not literally).

While reviewing footage of the unexplained explosion, unnamed industry officials report that SpaceX saw an “odd shadow and then a white spot” on the roof of a nearby building just before the blast – a building that’s owned by long-standing competitor United Launch Alliance (ULA).

Just to be absolutely clear here, and to hopefully absolve 6000 miles… from any threat of legal action from the United Lunch Alliance, who are particularly litigious between about 12 and 2pm, we’re not suggesting that they might be behind the cause of the explosion, we’re merely pointing out that someone else is suggesting that there may be a suggestion that they might be behind the cause of the explosion.

One of those stories that’s definitely worth watching…

Was This The Cause Of The SpaceX Explosion?

Remember just yesterday when I shared the video of the SpaceX Falcon vehicle exploding on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral?

I got a screenshot from that video, and I think I may have worked out exactly why the explosion took place:

Fullscreen capture 03-Sep-16 31030 PM.bmp

Look – there, just below the explosion site:

Fullscreen capture 03-Sep-16 31030 PM.bmp

Yes. A stray apostrophe.

I’ve been doing some rudimentary research and while I couldn’t actually find any instance in which a space vehicle had been destroyed by an errant semi-colon or exclamation mark, no investigation I found (Challenger, Discovery, Soyuz 11 et al.) implicitly stated that poor or incorrect use of punctuation wasn’t to blame, either.

Telling stuff, hey?

Elon Musk and Space X have always been very open about their successes and failures, inviting us to join in their programme, enjoy their triumphs and commiserate with them on their disappointments. This is, therefore, a watershed moment. Will they admit that appalling grammar caused this massive explosion or will we be fed some lies about a tube coming loose or a faulty valve or some such?

We’re watching, Elon. We’re watching.


Note: This realisation came to me on Cape Town’s elevated freeway today, above which was a dot matrix sign reading:

No if’s. No but’s.
Always buckle up.

I may have left out a hashtag somewhere – I was so shocked at the grammar, I almost crashed.

Static Fire Anomaly

A “Static Fire Anomaly”. That’s what they called it. Technically, I have no doubt that they are absolutely 100% correct. Technically correct is generally what rocket scientists do best. But as a way of describing what happens in the video below, “Static Fire Anomaly” would come some way down my list of options.

No, there are “tr”uckload of better candidates ahead of it.


But then understatement seemed to be the order of the day, as this tweet from SpaceX boss, Elon Musk, indicates:

Fullscreen capture 2016-09-02 092112 AM.bmp

If they’re really unsure what caused the loss of the Falcon vehicle, might I be the one to suggest that it was the multiple massive explosions and the big fire?

I’m quite interested to discover what caused the multiple massive explosions and the big fire, though.

In the meantime – knowing that no-one was injured in this incident, and that Elon Musk has enough money not to be troubled too much by the loss of a rocket – I can’t stop watching this amazing video.