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This article is about the company. For the trademarked polymer, see Thiokol (polymer).
Thiokol Chemical Corporation
Industry Aerospace, Manufacturing, Chemicals
Fate Purchased by ATK Launch Systems Group
Founded December 5, 1929
Defunct 2007
Headquarters Ogden, Utah, US
Products Rocket engines
Number of employees
Parent Cordant Technologies

Thiokol (variously Thiokol Chemical Corporation, Morton-Thiokol Inc., Cordant Technologies Inc., Thiokol Propulsion, AIC Group, ATK Thiokol; finally ATK Launch Systems Group before becoming part of Orbital ATK) 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 (θειον "theion") and glue (κολλα "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, and 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, and in 1986 was found at fault for the destruction of the Space Shuttle Challenger and the deaths of its astronauts. Thiokol continues to have major operations in the state, at Magna and Promontory (manufacture of the Space Shuttle's solid rocket motors), and its current headquarters at Brigham City. As of 2005 the company employed over 15,000 people worldwide and records annual sales of around US$840 million.

Company history[edit]

Model 601 U.S.A.F. Thiokol Snowcat
A Trident II (D-5) FBM launches and fires its Thiokol solid rocket first stage.
  • 1989: Morton Thiokol splits, with most of the chemical concern going with Morton. The propulsion systems division becomes Thiokol Inc.
  • 1998: Thiokol changes name to Cordant Technologies.
  • 1998: Thiokol branded polymer products purchased by PolySpec L.P., a Houston-based manufacturer of industrial coatings, marine decking, and subsea insulation products.
  • 2000: Thiokol merges with two divisions of Alcoa and with Howmet Castings and Huck Fasteners to become AIC Group (Alcoa Industrial Components).
  • 2001: Alliant Techsystems (ATK) Inc. (a company formed when Honeywell spun off its defense division) spends $2.9 billion buying Thiokol and related businesses from AIC/Alcoa. ATK built the third stage of the Trident missile and had earlier bought Hercules Aerospace Co., builder of the second stage. With the purchase of Thiokol, who make the missile's first stage, ATK controls the lion's share of the US solid rocket-fuel market.
  • 2005, Thiokol wins the contract to produce the Ares I launch vehicle first stage for NASA's Project Constellation.[6]
  • 2006, Alliant Techsystems (ATK) Inc. renamed ATK-Thiokol to ATK Launch Systems Group.
  • 2014: Orbital ATK is formed. It was formed from the merger of Orbital Sciences Corporation and parts of Alliant Techsystems.


Thiokol gas generators were used in the airbags on Mars Pathfinder. The top photo shows a complete airbag assembly under test, the bottom shows the three titanium Thiokol gas generators used to inflate the airbags.

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 manned 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.

Amphibious Thiokol Swamp Spryte All Terrain Vehicle

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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Edwards, Douglas C. (2001). "Chap. 5 - Liquid Rubber". In Bhowmick, Anil K.; Stephens, Howard. Handbook of Elastomers, Second Edition (First ed.). Marcel Dekker Inc. p. 135. ISBN 0-8247-0383-9. Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  2. ^ Sutton,, Edward S. (1999). From Polymers to Propellants to Rockets - A History of Thiokol. American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics. p. 2. 
  3. ^ Bedard, Andre: "Composite Solid Propellants" Encyclopedia Astronautica
  4. ^ 1997 Baltimore Sun article about Thiokol Elkton plant
  5. ^ a b c Kerr, Jessie-Lynn: "A Look Back: Huge blast in '71 obliterated Woodbine chemical plant" Florida Times-Union, October 18, 2010
  6. ^ ATK Media Center (December 7, 2005). "NASA Selects ATK to be Prime Contractor for First Stage of Next Generation Crew Launch Vehicle". ATK. 

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