|Industry||Aerospace, Manufacturing, Chemicals|
|Founded||December 5, 1929|
|Defunct||2007, succeeded by Orbital ATK; and later merged with Northrop Grumman|
|Fate||Purchased by ATK Launch Systems Group|
|Headquarters||Ogden, Utah, US|
|Products||Rocket engines, Snowcats|
Number of employees
Thiokol (variously Thiokol Chemical Corporation(/Company), Morton Thiokol Inc., Cordant Technologies Inc., Thiokol Propulsion, AIC Group, ATK Thiokol, ATK Launch Systems Group; finally Orbital ATK before becoming part of Northrop Grumman) was an American corporation concerned initially with rubber and related chemicals, and later with rocket and missile propulsion systems. Its name is a portmanteau of the Greek words for sulfur (θεῖον "theion") and glue (κόλλα "kolla"), an allusion to the company's initial product, Thiokol polymer.
The Thiokol Chemical Company was founded in 1929. Its initial business was a range of synthetic rubber and polymer sealants. Thiokol was a major supplier of liquid polymer sealants during World War II. When scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory discovered that Thiokol's polymers made ideal binders for solid rocket fuels, Thiokol moved into the new field, opening laboratories at Elkton, Maryland, and later production facilities at Elkton and at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. Huntsville produced the XM33 Pollux, TX-18 Falcon, and TX-135 Nike-Zeus systems. It closed in 1996. In the mid-1950s the company bought extensive lands in Utah for its rocket test range.
During its existence, Thiokol was involved in two notable loss of life incidents. On February 3, 1971, at a Thiokol chemical plant southeast of Woodbine, Georgia, a fire entered a storage facility holding nearly five tons of ignition pellets, flares, and other highly flammable materials. The facility exploded, killing 29 people and severely wounding more than 50 others, including many with severed limbs. Windows were shattered 11 miles (18 km) from the site and the explosion was heard for 50 miles (80 km) around. Georgia law prevented employees from suing their employer because they were covered by workers' compensation insurance.
On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members aboard. An investigation found the cause was two O-ring seals in the Space Shuttle's right solid rocket booster, which had been manufactured by Morton Thiokol. Test data from as early as 1977 had revealed a potentially catastrophic flaw in the O-rings in low-temperature situations, but neither Morton Thiokol nor NASA addressed or corrected the issue. Shortly before takeoff, several Morton Thiokol engineers recommended calling off the launch until temperatures at Cape Canaveral increased, but they were overruled by company management.
Products made by the aerospace divisions of RMI and Thiokol include motors used in Subroc, the Pershing missile, the Peacekeeper missile, Poseidon missile, Minuteman missile, and the Trident I and Trident II missiles. Thiokol produces powerplants for numerous U.S. military missile systems, including AIM-9 Sidewinder, AGM-88 HARM, AGM-65 Maverick, AGM-69 SRAM, and AIR-2 Genie.
Thiokol also produced a variety of liquid and solid rocket motors for the US space program, including deorbit motors for the Mercury and Gemini programs, rocket stages and separation rocket motors for the Apollo program, motors for the Pioneer, Surveyor, Viking, Voyager, and Magellan missions, updated CASTOR boosters for the Delta rocket, and the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster. Reaction Motors powerplants propelled the X-1 and X-15 aircraft, and later Thiokol technologies were also used in the private Tier One crewed spaceplane. On March 1, 2006, NASA announced that Thiokol will be the prime contractor for the new Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV), to be known as the Ares I, which will put the Orion spacecraft (formerly known as the "Crew Exploration Vehicle") into low Earth orbit, along with the five-segment SRBs for the heavy-lift Cargo Launch Vehicle (CaLV), known as the Ares V.
In addition to ski lifts, Thiokol produced a range of equipment for ski resorts including snowcats and snow grooming vehicles. These businesses were spun off in 1978 when the company restructured itself to concentrate on its rocket products and related technologies. John Z. DeLorean purchased the Thiokol snowcat operation and renamed it DMC. DMC continued to manufacture snowcats until 1988, when the company was renamed LMC. LMC continued making snowcats for 12 more years but ceased operations in 2000. Thiokol produced snow vehicles with a wide range of capabilities and duties. The company also produced several utility based vehicles based on their snowcat tracked vehicle, in addition to larger snow grooming machines suitable for use on steep ski-slopes. Thiokol machines were used in ski resorts, operated by the USAF in Alaska and other northern regions, and are now popular with private owners as dependable snowcats and for all-terrain transport.
Thiokol pioneered the short-burn rocket motors used in aircraft ejection seats. The company also produced a number of the earliest practical airbag systems, building the high-speed sodium azide exothermic gas generators used to inflate the bags. Thiokol bags were first used in U.S. military aircraft, before being adapted to space exploration (Mars Pathfinder bounced down on Mars on Thiokol airbags) and automotive airbags. Thiokol's generators form the core of more than 60% of airbags sold worldwide.