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Three Louisville Companies Critical to Space Shuttle Booster Rocket Performance

July 8, 2011 at 9:05 AM EDT

LOUISVILLE, KY (July 7, 2011) – With this week’s final Space Shuttle launch, three Rubbertown area chemical companies – American Synthetic Rubber Company, Momentive Specialty Chemicals and Zeon Chemicals – are justifiably proud of the roles they have played as partners with NASA’s Shuttle team.  All three companies have been producing materials at their Louisville plants that have played a critical part in the function of the shuttle’s reusable solid rocket motors, better known as booster rockets, for over 30 years.  These materials are used and assembled by the rocket’s manufacturer, ATK Launch Systems, in Utah for NASA’s Space Shuttle program.

The booster rockets are the largest solid rocket motors ever flown and the first designed for reuse.  A pair of the booster rockets generates over 6 million pounds of thrust during the first two minutes of every Space Shuttle launch.

American Synthetic Rubber Company (ASRC)
A polymer made by ASRC is the liquid binder, or glue, in the booster rocket’s propellant.  Materials made in Louisville are supplied to ATK, which then mixes them with other materials in 600-gallon mixers and pours the mixture into 12-ft.- by 30-ft.-long rocket segments. When cured, the solid propellant looks and feels much like a pencil eraser.  ASRC’s polymer helps control the rate of burn and gives the booster rocket’s propellant the strength to generate extremely high pressures as the rocket ignites.

Momentive Specialty Chemicals
Two of Momentive’s locally produced phenolic resins are critical components of the composite lining the rocket booster’s cone shaped nozzle.  These resins provide structural and thermal strength, allowing the nozzle to withstand the extremely high temperatures and pressures of the flames exiting the booster.   Momentive has provided direct expert technical support for a number of projects driving the performance, supply and consistency of the resins for the rocket nozzle since the early 1990’s.
Zeon Chemicals L.P.
Manufactured in its Louisville plant, Zeon Chemicals nitrile rubber is the primary ingredient in the booster’s rubber insulation, which performs the critical task of protecting the outer metal skin and joint seals from the harsh internal motor environment.  Another of Zeon’s nitrile rubber products is used in the booster’s bottom nozzle flexible bearing, which provides the capability to direct the nozzle and, thus, steer the shuttle.

Other interesting facts about the Space Shuttle’s booster rockets:

  • When all the rocket segments are shipped to and assembled by NASA in the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, each rocket is nearly the same height as the Stature of Liberty, without the pedestal, but weighs almost three times as much.
  • Each booster rocket burns 4.5 tons of propellant per second, a total of 1.1 million pounds during its 120-second burn time.
  • A pair of booster rockets is more powerful than 35 jumbo jets at takeoff.
  • The booster rocket’s combustion gases reach a temperature of 6,100 degrees F, which is two-thirds the temperature of the sun’s surface.
  • During flight, each booster rocket generates approximately 15,400,000 horsepower, the same horsepower generated by 38,500 Corvettes.
  • If their heat energy could be converted to electric power, two booster rockets firing for 2 minutes would produce 2.2 million kilowatt-hours of power – enough power to satisfy the needs of 87,000 home for a full day.
  • It takes only eight minutes for the Space Shuttle to accelerate to a speed of more than 17,000 mile per hour

More than 500 astronauts and scientists from around the world have safely ridden into orbit aboard the Space Shuttles to explore, research, build, repair, and foster international relationships.

Reference Websites
NASA Today:
ATK Launch Systems:

Tate Hoxworth

Pete Loscocco
Momentive Specialty Chemicals

Kim Shoulders
Zeon Chemicals L.P.