Another rocket has been launched from a test site that's been partly blamed for the recent Katangese invasion of Zaire's Shaba Province.
Another rocket has been launched from a test site that's been partly blamed for the recent Katangese invasion of Zaire's Shaba Province. The site has been set up on land rented from the Zaire Government by a West German company, and the latest launching was watched by Zaire's President Mobutu Sese Seko.
SYNOPSIS: The firm. OTRAG, established the test site in a remote part of Shaba Province after being refused continued support by the West German Government. The complex array of tubes and pipes make up a rocket that the company claims will lift communications satellites into space at half the cost of existing American and Russian equipment. This is made possible, the company says, by building the rockets from parts used in cars and other mass-produced items, and through using a new fuel that costs one-twentieth of the price of existing rocket propellant. Two cut-price rockets have been launched OTRAG since it began developing the 38-thousand square mile site in 1975. This was to be the third and most important test launch, watched by President Mobutu himself. The President's decision to hand over the land has drawn mounting criticism from the Soviet Union and some Communist-aligned African States. They've claimed that West Germany and Zaire are in fact building cruise missiles and rockets capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Neighbouring Angola, they say, will be the first target. These claims have prompted many Western observers to link the test site with the raids last month on Shaba Province by Katangese guerrillas based in Angola.
The West German Government has denied any involvement with OTRAG, and many western scientists have claimed that the OTRAG rockets are not capable of being used for military purposes. They say President Mobutu agreed to the deal because of the rental on the test site -- 20 million U.S. dollars a year -- and any royalties that may arise from sales to China and other interested countries. There's been no official statement from the President replying to such suggestions.
Despite its importance, the rocket proved something of a failure. According to a spokesman for OTRAG, a value controlling the rocket's trajectory failed, causing it to plummet back to earth after lifting only a few metres. The company said the two early test launchings sent OTRAG rockets to heights of 10 and 30 kilometres respectively. However, President Mobutu appeared undiscouraged by the latest performance, and waved heartily to 200 Zairean workers at the base as he left to return to Kinshasa.