Hercules engineers and executives breathed a sigh of relief as test firing of a Titan IV solid rocket motor came off Friday at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., without a problem - yet.
"Preliminary data are very positive, but we must await hardware inspection before total results are known," said Richard Schwartz, Hercules Aerospace president.About a year ago, the announcement wasn't so positive. Design problems caused the motor to blow up during its first test firing. It was a major setback in the problem-plagued Titan IV program, in which Hercules has tallied a $250 million loss. The failed test also cost about 300 workers their jobs at Hercules Bacchus Works plant in West Valley City, as the company halted production to redesign the motor.
The changes apparently worked. "The results indicate that the motor will meet the increased performance that will provide added capability to the Titan IV vehicle," Schwartz said.
During the static firing, in which
See TITAN on A2
the test motor is tied down so engineers can monitor thrust and performance, the motor delivered 1.7 million pounds of maximum thrust, which was within expectations.
All of the motor's hardware will be inspected in the next 10 days, and a complete inspection will be completed within a month. Further test firings will take place in the next three months to prove the motor's dependability.
If all goes well, Hercules may have a chance to recoup its losses. "This is the next step forward in heavy-lift solid rocket technology," said vice president Don Kirtley. He explained that Hercules is breaking new ground by encasing hotter rocket fuel in lighter graphite-epoxy material. If successful, rockets will be able to carry larger payloads into space.
"We feel highly optimistic about the results and, if the hardware inspections are favorable, we are clearly back on track," Schwartz said.