PROMONTORY -- Two little surprises almost put the brakes on ATK's plans for testing a new advanced rocket.
A pair of golden eagle eggs was found in a nest, about a mile away from the test site. They were discovered about a month before the planned May 23 test.
ATK's Promontory facility is 20,000 acres large and is home to a mass of wildlife. An environmental surveyor found the eggs, and a wildlife expert was brought in to confirm they belonged to golden eagles and that the parents were never far away.
The Promontory team determined a rocket launch could endanger the nest.
ATK was set to test LCS I, a new rocket primarily designed for the Air Force to launch payloads into space. The test involved keeping the rocket stationary while measuring thrust and other statistics, and it was to make a lot of noise.
"Our greatest concern was that the noise would cause the adults to abandon the nest," said Jennifer Bowman, spokeswoman for ATK's aerospace division.
Golden eagles are protected by two federal laws, including the same statute that protects bald eagles -- it bars anyone from removing the birds without proper authority, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Bowman said that simply moving the nest would also pose a great risk to the survival of the chicks.
"We literally put together an 'eagle team' to start researching and planning our next steps, which include briefing the Air Force on the matter," said Lamberth Blalock, vice president of Air Force Programs, in a statement.
Two weeks before the scheduled launch, the eggs hatched and two healthy baby eagles were waddling about the nest.
Although the chicks could have potentially put a damper on the test, staff members were amused by the bouncing baby birds, dubbing them the "Rocket Eagles." They had even installed a webcam to keep an eye on them.
"Some staff joked that we should make them tiny earmuffs," Bowman said.
Eventually, the experts from the Division of Wildlife Service determined that the launch would not disrupt the eagle's nest, which allowed the test to go on as scheduled.
Both baby eagles are expected to take flight soon and leave the nest for good.
The survey also gave personnel from the Division of Wildlife Service the opportunity to further study the eagles by attaching tracking devices to all four birds. Data gathered from the devices will give insight into rates of survival, causes of mortality and the general ecology of eagles.