Hal Murdock, CEO of American Pacific Corp., talks about the Nov. 16 launch of Artemis 1 during news conference, Cedar City, Utah, Dec. 8, 2022 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News
CEDAR CITY — Local business and education officials celebrated Cedar City’s involvement and commitment to the aeronautics and space industry during a press conference Thursday, just over three weeks after NASA’s successful launch of Artemis 1.
“This really is rocket science,” joked Hal Murdock, CEO of American Pacific Corp. as he talked about how his company supplied 2 million pounds of ammonium perchlorate used in the Space Launch System rocket’s solid-fuel boosters.
“Seventy percent of those big solid rocket boosters comes from Cedar City,” added Murdock, who attended the Nov. 16 launch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 16. Murdock said he and three other AMPAC executives watched the Nov. 16 nighttime launch from the spectator viewing area more than three miles away.
“Visually, when it lights up, there’s a lot of light, but you don’t hear the sound for a few seconds. And so it’s like, oh, that’s just beautiful. It’s awesome. It looks big and bright, and then the sound hits you,” he said, describing it as a reverberatingly loud and powerful rumbling noise.
Murdock called witnessing the launch “a life-changing event.”
“It’s something I’ve always dreamt of wanting to see,” he said. Earlier, he’d talked about how he’d watched the first Apollo moon landings on television more than 50 years ago. He said he remembers pointing at the TV and declaring, “I want to do that!”
“My course was set,” added Murdock, who has spent most of his life in aviation and the aerospace industry, including becoming a Navy pilot.
During Thursday’s news conference, Murdock played a four-minute YouTube video of the Artemis 1 rocket launch and described what was happening in detail for the attendees.
Just two minutes after liftoff, as the rocket was 27 miles above the earth and traveling at 4,000 mph, it jettisoned its boosters, he noted.
“Our boosters – I call them our – it’s 2 million pounds of our material, so I can claim that, right?” Murdock said as the video was playing. “They burn out and they’re gracefully pitched off.”
“They fall into the ocean, then the main core continues for six more minutes to get into orbit,” he added.
Murdock was the last of several speakers at Thursday morning’s news conference, which took place at Southwest Technical College in Cedar City even as Artemis 1’s Orion capsule was already on its way back to Earth. The unmanned module subsequently splashed down in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California at 10:40 a.m. MST on Sunday.
After traveling 1.4 million miles through space, orbiting the Moon, and collecting data that will prepare us to send astronauts on future #Artemis missions, the @NASA_Orion spacecraft is home. pic.twitter.com/ORxCtGa9v7
— NASA (@NASA) December 11, 2022
Among the other highlights from Thursday’s hourlong media event:
Gary Rosenfield, president of RCS Rocket Motor Components, said his company, which has been based in Cedar City since 2002, is the largest producer of composite propellant hobby rocket motors in the world. We’re also a growing manufacturer of rocket motors for industry and aerospace.”
Rosenfield said RCS’s motors use the same kind of propellant that’s used in the Artemis boosters. “In fact, we acquire our ammonium perchlorate from AMPAC,” he said.
As part of the company’s expansion plans, RCS is constructing a new facility on Airport Road, he added.
Corey Judd, general manager of Align Precision Cedar City, said the prototype for the Artemis 1 cabin bulkhead was built at Align Precision’s facility in Anaheim, California.
“(From) here in Cedar City, we don’t have any parts in space today,” he said. “But we do have a contract for the next round, and are making components that go into the boosters on the SLS rockets.”
As previously reported in Cedar City News, the company formerly known as Metalcraft Technologies, which has operated in Cedar City since 1989, was acquired about a year ago and made part of the Align Precision group, a premier manufacturer of structural components for the aerospace industry.
“We have about 225 employees right now,” Judd said of the Cedar City facility. “And we’re still growing. I’ve got a dozen openings right now and we’re trying to fill a really strong demand for aerospace components.”
Megen Ralphs, vice president of Align Precision Cedar City, spoke of the various educational opportunities available to high school students through the Iron County’s aerospace career pathways initiative, one of just six such programs in the state.
Local program partners include Iron County School District, Southwest Tech, Utah Department of Workforce Services, SUU Aviation, SyberJet Aircraft and Align Precision, Ralphs said, adding, “We’d also be happy to add any other aerospace companies that want to join us.”
Jeff Miller, dean of the Southern Utah University College of Engineering and Computational Sciences, said SUU is developing a new aerospace engineering degree program, the first to be offered in Utah.
“With the unique aviation program that we already have, we think that it would provide a great live laboratory for aeronautical engineering students to see what actually happens and not only get the theory side, but also get the practical side as well,” Miller said.
SUU students Ayline Vega, Amber Stricklen, Sierra Padilla, who are members of the university’s “Rocketbirds” club, brought in a large model rocket to serve as a backdrop for the news conference.
Mike Mower, executive director of SUU Aviation, and SUU Aviation’s marketing director Robbie Paul also spoke at Thursday’s event. Mower said SUU Aviation has grown from 30 students and 10 instructors at its inception 10 years ago to now having nearly 1,000 students and 130 full-time faculty and staff.
“This whole thing is about rockets and space,” Mower added. “They start with us, (in) aviation.”
“We’re training 10% of all new helicopter pilots in the U.S.,” he added. “That’s a huge number.”
During his remarks, Paul noted that of the hundreds of students enrolled in SUU Aviation’s programs, only about half are studying to become pilots. The rest are pursuing training in aspects of aviation, including maintenance and repairs, engineering, operations and management.
“We’re looking at being able to put over 600 A&P (mechanics) students in that program in the next five years,” Paul said, adding, “”We also have an aviation management degree that’s kind of exploding right now.”
As he thanked those in attendance for coming, Southwest Tech President Brennan Wood lauded the various partnerships involved.
“I think it’s really exciting for these types of projects to happen in our country and around the world,” Wood said. “We’re having huge impacts.”
Danny Stewart, economic development director for Cedar City and Iron County, agreed, saying, “This takes the cake when you talk about amazing things happening.”
“We are one or two degrees of separation from history, and man walking on the moon for the first time since 1972, with Apollo 17,” Stewart noted.
Although Artemis 1 was uncrewed, NASA has said it plans to have three-person crews of astronauts aboard future such missions. The U.S. space agency plans to send Artemis 2 to orbit the moon in 2024, with Artemis 3 scheduled to land on the moon’s surface near the lunar south pole in 2025 or 2026.
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