Rocket manufacturer Morton Thiokol is considering importing a fuel component used in space shuttle boosters following the destruction of a Nevada fuel plant, a company spokesman said Saturday.
Tremendous explosions that flattened Pacific Engineering & Production Co., killing two people and injuring 300 others, halted production of the powerful oxidizer ammonium perchlorate, used in the solid fuel that powers the booster rockets.The unexplained blast at Henderson, Nev., on Wednesday also prompted the closure of a nearby Kerr-McGee Chemical Inc. plant, the only other domestic source of the oxidizer.
Buying the oxidizer from European sources is an alternative being considered by Morton Thiokol and its customers, including the Defense Department and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said company spokesman Rocky Raab.
"We're considering all our options," he said. In the meantime, the government and Morton Thiokol were assessing their fuel inventories.
Pacific Engineering lost nearly 3 million pounds of the oxidizer that was to be delivered to the Air Force in June for use in the Titan rocket program, said Keith Rooker, a company spokesman. The company also provided oxidizer for the MX and Minuteman missiles, key parts of the nation's nuclear defense.
"The loss of the manufacturing capability of the plant, if not replaced, represents a serious threat to the national defense and a crippling blow to the nation's space program," Rooker said at a news conference Saturday in Las Vegas.
Morton Thiokol representatives were in Nevada to discuss the situation with Pacific Engineering and Kerr-McGee, but the companies' spokesmen did not know the outcome of the talks.