Can a rocket kill with sound? We talk about the loudest rocket in the world
If you look at video footage of the takeoff of the Saturn V rocket, which was launched during the Apollo program in the 1960s and 1970s, you can notice one curious detail – the audience watching the launches always stayed away from the launch pad. There are several good reasons for this, and noise is one of them. Loud enough sounds are quite capable of killing, especially since the Saturn V is one of the noisiest structures in the history of mankind.
The crowds of observers were five kilometers from the launch site, but even at that distance the noise was incredible. Then there was a myth that the sound waves of the Saturn V engines melted concrete and set fire to grass within a radius of one and a half kilometers – but this, of course, is not true. according to measurements NASA, the volume of the noise then was about 204 decibels. In comparison, the volume of jet aircraft engines fluctuates between 120 and 160 decibels, and this level of noise is considered hazardous to hearing if a person is exposed to it for more than 30 seconds. Even at a distance of 2.4 kilometers from the site, the noise of the Saturn V was incredibly loud – like a rock concert or a car horn in a tight space.
In 2022, a team of scientists from Brigham Young University in Utah repeated the Saturn V loudness calculations, but got almost the same result as NASA engineers – 203 decibels. Can this result be called the most impressive? Based on the power of rocket engines, it is unlikely. The Saturn V delivered 35 meganewtons of power, less than the theoretical performance of the infamous Soviet H1 rocket. However, the American counterpart was powerful enough that engineers had to think about more than just human hearing. Such rockets can damage themselves with their own sound waves generated during launch.
Now NASA is testing the SLS rocket, which will be used as part of the Artemis program. It should become one of the most powerful rockets in the history of mankind, 15% more powerful than the Saturn V – but quieter. However, engineers note that the final noise level will depend not only on the engines, but also, for example, on the weather on launch day. When cloud cover is high, sound waves can spread over a wide area and bounce off the clouds. According to researchers who studied the video of the launch of the SLS in November 2022, the maximum volume of the rocket at a distance of 1.5 kilometers from the site was 136 decibels. If you move even further, 5.2 kilometers, then the figure drops to 129 decibels.