Space Propulsion Group Inc. is back in Butte for the second time in three months to test 11-inch hybrid rockets.

The group tested twice Thursday, twice Friday and has plans for two eight-second blasts Saturday at the AeroTec facility, located about 10 miles west of Butte.

Arif Karabeyoglu, president and chief technical officer of SPG, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., said the tests in Butte have proven valuable to his company and have shown SPG's technology is "efficient and stable," the two words Karabeyoglu most wants to hear.

The tests this week are nearly the same as those done March 6-8, but Karabeyoglu's six-man staff makes small changes for each test, often using cheaper substitutes for the high-quality materials he started with.

"Our goal is (to create a propulsion system that is) inexpensive and reliable," he said.

Karabeyoglu noted that he hopes the entire system could be built with products available at the local hardware store.

"That's the plan," he said.

The tests are short, about eight seconds, and result in a flame around 30 yards long.

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Karabeyoglu said the group doesn't have many options once the test begins. The group sits inside of a control room about 100 yards away and he holds onto a "kill switch." "Mostly we just sit and pray that everything goes well," he laughed.

SPG plans another round of hybrid rocket testing in August and then has plans to look at a larger rocket next spring.

The propulsion systems, if they prove efficient and reliable, could be used to launch rockets, satellites and even commercial spacecraft.

"We are very close to that kind of technology," said Karabeyoglu, estimating at a commercial-ready product would be launched in six to nine months.

Dave Micheletti and Jim Kambich of the Montana Aerospace Development Association said there is potential economic growth for the Mining City in the aerospace industry.

"The possibilities for Butte, for businesses here and for Montana Tech are pretty high," Kambich said.

Reporter Tim Trainor may be reached via e-mail at tim.trainor@lee.net or call 496-5519.

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