Hercules Aerospace officials are still assessing the effect a Wednesday morning explosion will have on the company's production schedule for a variety of solid rocket motors it manufactures.
An intense investigation has begun, said Jack F. DeMann, Hercules' director of public affairs. "It will take at least two or three days, maybe longer," he said.One of Hercules' newest and largest mixing buildings was gutted when 25,000 pounds of rocket fuel ignited while being cast in a Delta II motor just after midnight. No one was injured in the blast as the crew managing the pour was operating the machinery by remote control from a building several hundred yards away.
The company called the impact "manageable" and will be juggling schedules to maintain productivity while the decision on how to replace mixing building No. 2 is reached.
"I know they're going to continue to look at the options available - equipment, schedules, moving work around the plant a little bit," DeMann said. "I'm confident they'll find a way to bring (the impact) to an absolute minimum."
"We don't want to rush into it because of what's involved," he said. "We're being pushed by deadlines, but safety is the overriding consideration."
DeMann said he doesn't believe the incident will have an impact on employment at the plant.
The gutted building at the Bacchus West works was the largest propellant mixing facility in the aerospace industry, according to company officials, but there is another one just like it that is operational, and a third mixing building is currently under construction and is scheduled for completion in January. DeMann said meetings with the contractor are being arranged to see if construction on the third mixing facility can be accelerated.
The company also has a number of older, smaller mixing facilities at Bacchus East it can use. "But ultimately we have to have three mix facilities up there (at Bacchus West), so one way or the other it will have to be addressed," DeMann said.
In addition to the Delta II contract, which is described as one of Hercules' most significant space contracts, the company also manufactures Trident II, Titan IV and Peacekeeper motors at the Bacchus works.
The exact production schedule for the rocket motors is something the company's military customers generally don't like discussed publicly, DeMann said, so the degree to which the production schedule is impacted may not be publicly detailed. The company promptly supplied photographs of the damaged mixing building for the media Wednesday, but news photographers and reporters were not allowed in to see the damaged area.