Service Propulsion System Fuel Tanks
During an acceptance test of the Apollo spacecraft 101 service module prior to delivery, an SPS fuel pressure vessel (SN054) (titanium Ti-6Al-4V, approximately 1.2 m (4 ft) in diam and 3 m (10 ft) long) containing methanol developed cracks adjacent to the welds. The test was stopped. This acceptance test had been run 38 times on similar pressure vessels without problems. The methanol was a safe-fluid replacement for the storable hypergolic fuels (blend of 50% hydrazine and 50% unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine). Investigation (visual inspection and 65X images) showed similarities to stress-corrosion resulting from contamination during misprocessing of the vessels. However, another vessel underwent a more severe testing procedure and failed catastrophically. Further investigation supported the conclusion that the failure cause was SCC of titanium in methanol. Attack is promoted by crazing of the protective oxide film. It was learned that minor changes in the testing procedures could inhibit or accelerate the reaction. Recommendations included replacing the methanol with a suitable alternate fluid. Isopropyl alcohol was chosen after considerable testing. This incident further resulted in the imposition of a control specification (MF0004-018) for all fluids that contact titanium for existing and future space designs.