12 August 2003
Titan 4B leaks toxic rocket propellant
By Jim Banke


A small quantity of toxic rocket propellant leaked at complex 40 tonight as workers were loading the second stage of the booster for a targeted Aug. 17 launch attempt, Air Force officials said in a news release.

About 50 gallons of nitrogen tetroxide spilled and created a small but dangerous red plume of gas about 6 p.m. EDT, which then drifted to the west of pad 40 toward the Kennedy Space Center and dissipated. Fortunately no one was hurt during the incident and at no time was anyone in the general public at risk.

"Our emergency response team was immediately dispatched to the scene to secure the site and assess the potential risk to those at Cape Canaveral and the surrounding area," said Col. Ev Thomas, 45th Space Wing vice commander. "All those involved were in full protective equipment and were able to control the leak within minutes."

Nitrogen tetroxide and hydrazine are mixed together and spontaneously ignite to power the first and second stages of the Titan 4. The corrosive and deadly chemicals are used because they burn upon contact with each other and can be stored as a liquid at room temperature.

The chemicals have been in use by the space program since the very early days and all space center workers are trained to deal with the potential hazards.

Officials said they will be investigating the cause of the spill and were not sure yet how the incident might affect the planned launch date.

The Titan 4B is to carry a secret spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Stay tuned to this page for updates on the countdown.

Russian launch?

We're keeping an eye on Russian news sources who report that another military launch is expected by the end of August, this time from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. If we learn any more details about this shot we will post the information here first.

Jim Banke, Senior Producer in the Cape Canaveral Bureau of SPACE.com.


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