PROMONTORY — ATK Space Systems will test another version of its Gem-60 booster motor today, a smaller version of the solid rocket motors it has built for years to boost the space shuttle into orbit.
The test will be at 11:15 a.m. at the test facility on the company’s Promontory campus, 20 miles west of Corinne, and will be visible from State Road 83.
The GEM-60 is a single-segment solid rocket motor that ATK Space Systems builds to sell to the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
GEM-60 stands for a graphite epoxy motor that is 60 inches in diameter. ULA uses the GEM-60 on its Delta IV liquid-fueled rocket. The Delta IV launches a wide range of communications, military, surveillance and other types of satellites.
ATK has built the GEM-60 since 2002. Recently the company that made the nozzle went out of business, so ATK began making that as well.
Because of that, and the fact that ATK is making the nozzle out of different materials, the whole motor has to be recertified.
There are two versions of the nozzle — one that can be aimed in different directions to steer the motor, and one that is fixed. The nozzle that can be aimed was successfully tested May 31. The one being tested today is a fixed nozzle.
In this test, as in the last, the entire motor is being cooled down to 30 degrees to simulate a cold-weather launch.
At May’s test, Mark Wilkins, ULA vice president of operations, said ATK and ULA are working to finalize a five-year block buy of the GEM-60, which will guarantee ULA a better price and guarantee ATK continued business.
“If we do that, we’ll be buying at least 26 more of these,” he said, at a price of about $5 million each.
Production of the GEM-60 is one cash-producing product that ATK still has after the end of the space shuttle program, for which it built booster motors for more than 30 years. ATK had to cut its Box Elder County work force in half, laying off more than 2,000 workers, when the space shuttle program ended.
It is ironic that the customer for the GEM-60, Boeing in the United Launch Alliance, is one of three companies that beat ATK in the recent competition for funding to build the next generation of commercial manned launch vehicles.
ATK’s Liberty launch vehicle combines ATK’s shuttle motor technology with the European-built Ariene 5 rocket built by Astrium. ATK was turned down by NASA for development funding in August, while Boeing was awarded $460 million.
ATK spokeswoman Trina Helquist said Wednesday that ATK is still trying to decide what to do with Liberty. Up to this point ATK has been paying to develop it.
She said ATK did get a debriefing from NASA on why it lost the bid, and said ATK doesn’t think NASA gave proper consideration to how safe ATK’s vehicle is, because it uses time-proven technology.
“Although our proposal focused on the strategic goals called out in the Commercial Crew Integration Capability (CCiCap) solicitation — such as cost to the government, schedule and safety — those categories were not given clear weighting in the ratings of the proposal.”
She said ATK still has confidence in its proposal, but could not say whether a test launch of Liberty, projected for 2015, will take place.