Tim Furniss/LONDON

THE REPUTATION of the USA's small-launcher industry will ride with the 16m-tall Conestoga 1620 when the maiden flight is attempted from Wallops Island, Virginia, in about "four weeks' time", says EER Systems.

The industry has been hit by several setbacks recently. Orbital Sciences suffered its second Pegasus XL failure on 22 June and the first Lockheed Launch Vehicle (LLV) failed on 15 August. (Flight International, 30 August-5 September). A new XL attempt may be made next month, while the LLV is not scheduled to be flown again, until June 1996.

The Conestoga, too, experienced a hiccup on 13 August: its countdown was aborted at T-90s when the thrust-vector control system of two motors lost pressure.

The booster was designed by Space Services, operated by the late Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton, and was acquired by EER Systems. It will be launched from EER's launch pad at Wallops Island and will also be the first commercial launch from this NASA base.

The first Conestoga payload is the NASA-funded Multiple Experiment Transporter to Earth Orbit, or the Meteor, which uses assets of the former programme known as the Comet.

The Meteor carries seven NASA experiments and six commercial experiments in a CTA Space Systems service module and a recoverable capsule, built by Space Industries. The capsule will be recovered from the Atlantic a month after launch.

A family of Conestogas - based on combinations of Thiokol Castor 4A and 4B solid-rocket motors, with Star upper stages - is also being promoted separately, with a payload capability to low-Earth orbit (LEO), ranging from 226kg to 2,130kg.

The primary commercial vehicles will be the Meteor's Conestoga 1620 model, with four stages and six strap-on motors, which can place 816kg into LEO; and the 1220 model, which can carry 270kg to LEO.

Source: Flight International