Leaky engine seals delay weather satellite launch

Posted: October 25, 2001

  Titan 2
The two-nozzle Titan 2 first stage engine system will have leaky seals replaced before launch can occur. Photo: U.S. Air Force
Originally planned to be the first U.S. launch of 2001, technical gremlins have kept an Air Force Titan 2 rocket and its military weather satellite grounded all year and the latest glitch could very well delay blastoff until late December.

Leaky engine turbopump seals were recently found on the rocket's first stage as launch pad technicians were beginning the campaign for a November 14 liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Col. John Insprucker, the Air Force's deputy Titan program manager, told Spaceflight Now.

"The Lockheed Martin contractor, in conjunction with Aerojet (the manufacturer of the engines), will remove the turbopump assembly from each engine and replace the suspect leaky seals," Insprucker said in a statement.

The work is scheduled to be completed at Vandenberg over the next two weeks. The team replacing the seals routinely performs this procedure after every engine test at Aerojet, so the procedure is not unusual, Insprucker said.

The Titan 2's first stage has been sitting on the Space Launch Complex-4 West pad since October 12, 2000, and that lengthy wait is what caused the seals to leak.

A refurbished Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, the Titan 2 was poised for launch January 20 when the first countdown was scrubbed by ground equipment troubles. A second try a day later was halted at T-minus 28 seconds because of a sluggish fuel valve indicator switch. Later that night the rocket's cargo, the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program F16 spacecraft, suffered a guidance system malfunction.

The extensive work to find the DMSP satellite's ailment and correct the situation postponed the $430 million mission until late summer. Scheduling conflicts at Vandenberg then pushed the Titan 2 launch until November 14.

A new launch date has not been formally established.

"Space and Missile System Center at Los Angeles AFB is coordinating priorities with U.S. Space Command and Air Force Space Command. While the required turbopump seal replacement has not yet been accomplished, assuming a nominal rework, the Titan booster could be ready to support a late December 2001 launch," Insprucker said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which will control the DMSP spacecraft once in orbit, reported earlier this week that the launch was tentatively targeted for December 20.