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Test-firing of rocket motor launches new era of space vehicles

A successful static test-firing of a powerful new rocket motor in Utah's western desert Tuesday has completed a series of tests needed for a new generation of space vehicle.

The Delta III rocket will replace the present Delta II and will have about twice the lift as the earlier vehicle. The solid booster engines are manufactured by Alliant Tech-systems' Space and Strategic Systems Group, based in Magna.The test firing, carried out at the Tekoi test site on the Goshute Indian Reservation, went off precisely as planned, with the motor igniting at 10:59 a.m., said Travis Campbell, Alliant Techsystems vice president for commercial launch vehicles.

"All the preliminary data looks excellent," he said.

Next the company will return the spent motor to its factory and cut it up, studying it to make sure that the propellant burned properly. Each motor delivers a maximum of 205,000 pounds of thrust, 33 percent more than the solid-fuel rocket engines for the Delta II.

Boeing, the prime contractor for the Delta III, will "put up mainly commercial satellites" with the new vehicle, Campbell said. "The first launch is a Hughes Galaxy 10 telecommunications satellite."

Under its contract with Boeing, every year Alliant Techsystems will provide five flight sets, or 45 solid rockets.

The motors are strap-ons to the main liquid-fuel engines of the Delta III. Six will fire on the ground, simultaneously with the first-stage liquid engine. They will burn for 68 seconds. On the second section, another three solid rockets will fire for 78 seconds.

Dave Nicponski, an Alliant spokesman who witnessed Tuesday's blast, said the firing was impressive, kicking up an extensive plume of fire that was visible before the sound wave buffeted observers several miles away.

With completion of static tests, the first set of motors to be used in space launches should be delivered to Boeing in January 1998. The first launch of a Delta III is planned for the middle of next year. The new vehicle should be able to put a payload of 18,280 pounds into low orbit, or a payload of 8,400 into a higher, geosynchronous, orbit.