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VALVE BLAMED FOR FIRE THAT GUTTED ROCKET

SHARE VALVE BLAMED FOR FIRE THAT GUTTED ROCKET

A small California company whose rocket was destroyed by fire on the launch pad as its engine struggled to lift twin commercial payloads blamed the failure on the malfunction of a fuel valve.

American Rocket Co. of Camarillo had spent $15 million getting the unmanned rocket ready for its first launch, a 15-minute suborbital flight carrying a Defense Department "Star Wars" experiment and a capsule designed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology."Nothing good or great is ever accomplished without setbacks," said James C. Bennett, president of American Rocket Co., at a news conference after Thursday's fire.

Bennett said it appears that the valve through which liquid oxygen flows onto the rocket's fuel, made from a synthetic rubber, did not open fully.

Bennett said the valve was allowing only about 20 to 30 percent of the oxygen needed to properly ignite the solid fuel and give the rocket the 75,000 pounds of thrust needed for its flight.

Engineers stopped the 10:28 a.m. ignition sequence after 17 seconds, but large flames shot up, followed by massive clouds of black smoke that engulfed the 58-foot rocket.

The crew tried to put the clamps holding down the rocket back into place, but it toppled over and continued to burn.