Tail fin blamed for errant rocket

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LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) – A Connecticut company is blaming a flawed tail fin design for causing a 20-foot rocket to veer off course shortly after the inaugural launch at New Mexico’s spaceport last fall.

Jerry Larson, president of Farmington-based UP Aerospace, said the aerodynamic instability of the SpaceLoft XL rocket was traced to the tail fin.

“The fin design was not adequate for Mach 4 or faster,” Larson said. “An anomaly was, of course, not good. I guess it was good that it was easy to fix.”

The rocket corkscrewed out of control seconds after launch on Sept. 25. It crashed in the desert west of White Sands Missile Range, the targeted landing spot.

The rocket reached an altitude of about eight miles – far short of the 62 miles needed to reach space.

Larson said three other SpaceLoft rockets are ready for launch, the next likely to occur within three months. No date has been announced.

The three rockets are almost fully booked with customers, he said. The first SpaceLoft XL rocket carried dozens of experiments from paying customers, schools and universities.

UP Aerospace hopes to launch at least six times this year from Spaceport America, 45 miles north of Las Cruces near Upham in Sierra County. As many as eight flights might be possible, Larson said.

A successful launch carries a lot of importance for the $225 million spaceport. Data from a successful launch and recovery is needed to obtain an Federal Aviation Administration license that would clear the project to go forward.

“We’re not in a position to add more infrastructure until we get that FAA license,” New Mexico Economic Development Secretary Rick Homans said.

Currently, the spaceport consists of a concrete launching pad and a few trailers.

AP-ES-01-13-07 1840EST

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