Hercules says it has not stopped production on its troubled Titan IV rocket program and remains committed to the project despite an April 1 explosion of a rocket motor. The Hercules-built Titan solid rocket motor upgrade (SRMU) exploded during its first static test firing in California.

Hercules said that contrary to news service reports, the company intends only to "temporarily curtail" work on the project, which could be directly affected by an Air Force investigation into the accident."We've got to fix the problem and get on with it," Hercules Chairman Thomas L. Gossage told a group of financial analysts Tuesday. "We're in this business because we're good at it, and to make money. We believe we'll remedy the Titan SRMU problem and make money. The need is there and cargos are there."

Gossage's comments to the analysts were made public in a news release from the company's headquarters in Wilmington, Del.

On Monday, Hercules laid off 120 workers at its Bacchus Works in Magna, bringing to a total of some 400 who have lost their jobs at the Utah operation since last fall. A spokesman said the latest layoffs had nothing to do with the Titan explosion but were an ongoing attempt to improve profitability.

Gossage told analysts the Titan is important not only to Hercules' financial goals but to the nation's space program, particularly for national security payloads.

He described it as the first heavy-lift solid rocket system in 25 years, needed to give the Air Force 25 percent more capability for launching larger and heavier satellites into space. He said the Air Force is committed to the program, adding that Richard Schwartz, president of Hercules Aerospace, is in "close communication" with the Air Force's Titan program director and that he "assures us of their strong support."

He also noted that the Titan's prime contractor, Martin Marietta Corp., has publicly stated it remains committed to the rocket system, and "together with Hercules, we will determine the cause of the failure, fix the problem and get on with the program."

An Air Force-headed team is currently determining the cause of the explosion, Gossage said. "We would expect to have potential failure causes within about 30 days. It could be as complicated as a design problem, or it could be not too serious. At this time, we just don't know and don't know yet the time required to fix it."

Gossage said Hercules is also looking at the financial impact the explosion will have on Hercules - the "what ifs." The financial impact still cannot be predicted with any "satisfactory degree of confidence," he said, adding that it will take until mid-May to develop the next full estimate of Titan completion costs.