Encyclopedia Astronautica
1967.04.20 - Fire in the Bell Apollo LM ascent engine test facility


A fire broke out in the Bell Aerosystems Test Facility, Wheatfield, N.Y., at 2:30 a.m. April 20. Early analysis indicated the fire was started by overpressurization of the ascent engine's propellant- conditioning system, which caused the system relief valve to dump propellant into an overflow bucket. The bucket in turn overflowed and propellant spilled onto the floor, coming into contact with a highly oxidized steel grating. Contact was believed to have initiated combustion and subsequently an intense, short-duration fire.

The fire began in the test facility building near the altitude chamber and fuel tanks and spread to the inside of the altitude chamber. Among the effects of the fire on the program were

- about four weeks' requirement to repair the LM ascent engine test facility,

- tests delayed accordingly, and

- delay of the acceptance test of the LM-2 ascent engine.

On April 26, a small localized fire occurred in Test Cell No. 3G at the Bell Aerosystems Test Center in Porter, N.Y. Preliminary reports indicated that a LM ascent engine bipropellant valve had been tested as a valve injector assembly but was not connected to an injector at the time of the fire. This valve was being purged with nitrogen on the fuel side and water on the oxidizer side in preparation for flushing. A very small quantity of fuel had spilled from the valve during hookup to the flush stand. When the water started to flush through the oxidizer side, a loose connector allowed oxidizer to come in contact with the spilled fuel and the fire resulted. No one was injured; damage was estimated at $250.

ASPO Manager George Low received a message from NASA Hq. May 3 expressing concern that the two fires within one week might be symptomatic of inadequate test procedures and personnel training, which could lead to a more serious accident. Headquarters requested results of the investigations and notice of corrective action taken to prevent future incidents.

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