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Butte News

Jan 19, 2011 7:10 PM by Melanie Yuill

Hardware failure to blame for explosion at Butte Aerotech facility

A hardware failure is to blame for an explosion at a rocket testing facility that destroyed a rocket motor and the steel building that housed it.

The incident occurred Tuesday afternoon at AeroTech, west of Butte.

This was the very first test of a 24-inch diameter rocket motor at the site. The facility it was being tested in was just built last summer, and now it's no longer intact.

"The experience was a loud noise followed by a flash that didn't last very long actually was a really short event," Space Propulsion Group President Arif Karabeyoglu said.

"Walls, ceiling and structural members of the building were lost as well as the motor," Montana Aerospace Development Association President Dave Micheletti said.

Twenty people were on site at the time of the explosion, five of whom were part of the failed test. No one was injured.

"Not a good feeling to have a loss of hardware. It's going to be a couple month setback on the program, but hardware can be replaced human beings cannot," Karabeyoglu said.

It will take about four to six months to rebuild and start testing the 24-inch diameter rocket motors again, but this won't affect other tests.

"Other test programs at facility will continue regardless," Micheletti said.

This includes tests on 11-inch diameter rocket motors. Now the U.S. Air Force is conducting an investigation and in the future will release a report on what went wrong and how to prevent it from occurring again, but these types of malfunctions aren't uncommon.

"When testing rocket motors, hardware failures are extremely common. That's why we do a lot of testing," Karabeyoglu said.

No jobs will be lost because of this setback. Everyone will be cooperating with the investigation and working on rebuilding.

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