December 22, 2004
Boeing Rocket’s Maiden Voyage Fails
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- A new heavy-duty Boeing rocket designed to haul super-sized military satellites into space failed during a test flight to put a dummy satellite into its intended orbit, officials said Wednesday.
Boeing said the failure Tuesday was apparently caused by a shorter-than-planned firing of the Delta 4 Heavy rocket's three main engines. Fired simultaneously, each of the three hydrogen-powered main engines generates 17 million horsepower.
A dummy satellite carried in the rocket's nose cone was to have been delivered to a circular geosynchronous orbit - a spot 22,300 miles from Earth where the satellite would remain over the same spot on Earth at all times. Even after an extended firing of the rocket's second stage, the satellite fell short of that goal.
The Air Force paid Boeing $140 million to conduct the test rather than risk the loss of an expensive military satellite on the inaugural launch.
In a statement, a Boeing executive characterized the mission as success despite the failure of the satellite to reach its proper orbit.
"While the demonstration satellite did not reach its intended orbit, we now have enough information and confidence in the Delta 4 Heavy to move forward with preparations for the upcoming Defense Support Program launch," said Dan Collins, vice president of Boeing Expendable Launch Systems.
That mission, scheduled for next fall, is to carry a missile detection satellite into space. A third launch is to carry a secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates the nation's fleet of spy satellites.
It is unclear what effect the rocket's failure will have on those missions.
The Air Force is still evaluating the situation and declined to comment on any potential fallout, spokesman Joe Davidson said.
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