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EUROPEANS ACCUSE THIOKOL OF SHODDY WORKMANSHIP

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European aerospace authorities are accusing Thiokol Corp. and another American contractor of shoddy workmanship resulting in the delay of research for an international space station, an industry publication said.

A May issue of Space News said European officials were "shocked at the low level of craftsmanship and the absence of documentation and control procedures on the part of Thiokol and Allied Signal Inc."Thiokol's tactical operations division is under a $12.7 million contract for Europe's Maxus suborbital sounding rocket, a vessel that does not completely orbit the Earth as it gathers information on atmospheric conditions at different altitudes.

Thiokol's tactical operations division in Huntsville, Ala., was supplying the rocket's motor and had contracted with Allied Signal of Torrance, Calif., to supply the motor's harness.

"We thought Thiokol had a reputation for high quality in rocket motors, and we were buying a motor. For us it was like buying a Mercedes or Volkswagen. We trusted them," Burkhard Franke, manager of the Maxus program, told Space News.

But the rocket's inaugural launch last year failed when excessive heat burned through the engine's guidance cables. A test of the motor and control system last March again revealed poor workmanship on the cables, which relay commands to the motor.

"The motor was not ready for delivery. The wiring was not properly connected, and there was evidence of other problems," another European aerospace official told Space News. "We started to run our test and discovered there were many connections that had not been made. It was embarrassing."

The angry Europeans demanded repairs be made in three weeks. But an April inspection found the same problems, in addition to missing documentation backing up claims that the system worked before the inspectors arrived.

Franke told Space News that the only evidence Thiokol could produce that the motor and harness were working was "a good feeling."

"I said, `What evidence do you have?' They told me, `We just have a good feeling about it.' They showed me nothing in the way of documentation," Franke said in the article.

Thiokol defended the motor used on Maxus, crediting it with 1,800 successful flights. In a statement issued to the Deseret News, Thiokol said the problems have centered around a piece of wiring hardware supplied by a subcontractor.

"A proposal to make improvements to the design has been agreed to by (Maxus officials)," the statement said. "We now are working to resolve contractual questions, and we consider the matter closed."

A lot hinges on Thiokol's coming through, Space News explained. The Maxus program - which runs experiments on microgravity or the gravitational pull between objects in space - is an important element in Europe's plans for an international space station. The 13-nation European Space Agency, which paid for experiments carried on the first failed launch, has been guaranteed a relaunch. And, Maxus is under pressure from government officials critical of space spending in general and microgravity science in particular.

Before the string of failures last March, officials had hoped to put Maxus back on track in May. Franke told Space News he hoped the flight would occur in November.