While employed by Space Services Inc. (SSI) of Houston, Texas, Donald K. "Deke" Slayton, one of the original seven Gemini astronauts, thought up the concept of a multiple-stage rocket consisting of a core motor with additional motors strapped around it, the number of additional motors depending on the size of the payload. This was the Conestoga rocket. When EER bought SSI, they acquired the Conestoga design, as well as Deke Slayton, who came to EER as Director of the Space Services Division.
The prime contractors for COMET [COMmercial Experiment Transporter] were the Space Division of Westinghouse Electric Corporation, in Baltimore, which supplied the service module; Space Industries Inc. of League City, Texas, which provided the recovery module; and EER Systems Corp. of Vienna, Va., which furnished the Conestoga launch vehicle. Space Industry, Inc., also was to contribute payload integration, orbital operations, and the recovery system.
The Conestoga 1620 launch on October 23, 1995 resulted in failure, disintegrating in midair 46 seconds after launch. This was the maiden flight of the Conestoga 1620 and was the first orbital rocket launched out of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in 10 years. EER Space Systems, Conestoga's manufacturer, concluded that low frequency noise from an unknown source upset the guidance system on the rocket, causing it to order course corrections when none were needed. The rocket went off course when its first stage steering mechanism ran out of hydraulic fluid and became inoperable.
The destruction of this flight resulted in the loss of the Multiple Experiment Transporter to Earth Orbit and Return payload (METEOR 1, formerly the Commercial Experiments Transporter, COMET 1) and the 14 microgravity experiments on board. METEOR 1 was to be a recoverable payload, designed for on-orbit microgravity experiments advancing commercial applications of materials processing and medical research. The launcher and the spacecraft were designed and developed commercially over a five-year period with NASA and private funding.
That one launch failure marked the end of both COMET and the Conestoga. EER was out of the launch business, and abandoned selling space on future COMET missions.
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