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17-Jul-99 | Delta III failure investigation, preliminary results

Boeing has identified a probable cause for the premature second stage engine shutdown that caused the 4 May launch of Delta III to strand Orion F-3 in a lower than planned orbit.  “The most likely [scenario] appears to be a breach in the engine combustion chamber that resulted in an explosive-type event,” said Dr. Russell Reck, Chairman of the Investivative Board. (Boeing press release) The rupture has been traced to a new manufacturing process used by Pratt & Whitney; similar flaws have been found in other recently-built RL10 engines, variants of which are used in Delta III as well as the Centaur upper stage. A number of Atlas-Centaur flights have also been delayed. The next Delta III flight is expected in October, but may depend on the availability of a non-suspect engine and/or re-engineering of the process.

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