Fueled for success — Rocket test runs longest yet; expansion planned

The next step for SPG Inc. is outer space.

Arif Karabeyoglu said the company, which has been testing its rocket prototypes in Butte since 2009, has commercially viable technology and is looking to identify partners to help get the science into orbit.

The Space Propulsion Group Inc. and the Montana Aerospace Development Association held a two-day media event this week at the test facility, located west of Butte.

Arif Karabeyoglu explains the test set up of a 22 inch hybrid rocket engine prior to Friday's test at their facility in the Butte tax increment financing industrial district near Silver Bow. Photos by Walter Hinick - Montana Standard

The company successfully test-fired two different rocket technologies — an ammonia-fueled version on Thursday and two different sized hybrid fuel rockets on Friday. It also brought in public relations professionals who specialize in aerospace to help increase SPG Inc.’s reach and reputation within the space industry.

“We’re there,” said Karabeyoglu, SPG’s president. “I think we are at a game-changing trend of how we send things and people into space.”

Karabeyoglu arrived in Butte in 2009 with nothing more than an idea — an idea in which the Air Force, NASA, and commercial aerospace companies were interested — but a mostly untested idea nonetheless.

“I would be lying if I said I was extremely confident,” he said.

But it wasn’t just the Stanford University spinoff that came with questions. Montana Aerospace Development Association and the Butte AeroTec facility were awfully low profile as well.

“They didn’t know us, didn’t know this facility,” said Dave Micheletti, chairman of MADA. “But I had a certain amount of confidence or else we never would have entered into this agreement.”

Yet, its first year was an unmitigated success. Tests on small rocket motors went well and the 16th such firing was as close as Karabeyoglu would get to a “Eureka!” moment. It was the first time the motor burned stable, efficient and safely throughout the entirety of the test. Suddenly, SPG thought its project had legs.

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