Utah company tests rocket for NASA, commercial use

By Josh Loftin

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Sept. 8 2011 5:30 p.m. MDT

This image provided by ATK Aerospace Systems shows an ATK Aerospace Systems two-minute test in Utah's west desert Thursday Sept. 8, 2011 that was the third one for this 154-foot, five-stage booster rocket. This rocket booster could launch future space flights for NASA and commercial operators.

ATK Aerospace Systems, Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — Even as the space program struggles for survival, a Utah company demonstrated with a two-minute booster rocket test Thursday that space travel won't end in the near future.

Firing the five-stage, 154-foot booster rocket was done for the benefit of NASA officials as well as private operators of space flights, said Charlie Precourt, the vice president of space launch systems for ATK Aerospace Systems.

The test of the 22-million horsepower rocket, conducted in Utah's west desert, was described by Precourt as a success. The five-stage booster rocket is modeled on the four-stage booster rockets that used to launch the discontinued space shuttles.

The focus of Thursday's test was to ensure sensors worked and new components on the rockets could withstand extremely hot temperatures, Precourt said.

The test was done during an uncertain time for NASA, as the agency fights to continue funding space flights to the International Space Station and other places. Precourt said the space agency needs to be funded for the good of the entire country.

"NASA is one of the agencies we should be most proud of in generating research and development benefits to this country," Precourt said. "In doing so, the technologies that emerge ... fold back into our economy multiple times over. That kind of investment, if it isn't made, inhibits our ability to expand our economy."

ATK spokesman George Torres said the booster rockets have many applicable uses. There is a lot of interest from NASA for its "heavy lift" program that will begin sending astronauts on deep space missions, as well as companies offering private space flights or for launching satellites into orbit.

Torres said no other booster rocket provides as much power as the one tested Thursday, which is essential to escape the pull of Earth's gravity.

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Josh Loftin can be reached at http://twitter.com/joshloftin.

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