KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — An Atlas-Centaur rocket scheduled for blastoff May 22 on a military flight was grounded Wednesday for up to a month for extra safety checks because of similarities to a Delta rocket that was destroyed Saturday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said.
The decision comes in the wake of the Jan. 28 Challenger disaster, the explosion of an Air Force Titan 34D rocket April 18 and the destruction of the Delta rocket Saturday. The shuttle, Titan and Delta programs are all grounded for accident investigations, and with the temporary grounding of the Atlas-Centaur, the United States has no major satellite launchers on flight-ready status, officials said.
The Atlas-Centaur launch was postponed, in part, because engines in the Atlas first stage and the one that shut down prematurely to doom the Delta on Saturday are similar and are built by Rocketdyne, officials said.
The Atlas-Centaur's payload is an Air Force-Navy communications satellite built by TRW.