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Aerojet to pay Orbital $50 million over Antares rocket accident

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(Reuters) — Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc. will pay Orbital ATK $50 million to settle a dispute stemming from an Antares rocket launch accident last year that destroyed a load of cargo bound for the International Space Station, Aerojet said Thursday.

The company also said it would take title to 10 AJ-26 rocket engines previously earmarked for Orbital, one of two companies hired by NASA to fly cargo to the station after the agency retired its space shuttles.

Orbital successfully flew two of eight planned missions under its original $1.9 billion contract with NASA before the Oct. 28, 2014, accident from Wallops Island, Virginia.

A final report on the botched mission is pending, though the companies have publicly disagreed about whether an engine manufacturing problem by Aerojet and/or mishandling of the engine during processing by Orbital triggered the explosion.

Aerojet declined to release any details about the settlement.

"All the data related to the analysis is proprietary," Aerojet spokesman Glenn Mahone told Reuters.

Orbital did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

An undisclosed part of the one-time, $50 million payment will be covered by insurance, Mr. Mahone said, adding that the money will be paid by Sept. 30.

The settlement formally ends Aerojet's involvement in the Antares rocket program. Orbital last year decided to speed up a previously planned engine replacement program and is working toward a March 2016 debut of the revamped rocket.

Orbital also has purchased two Atlas rocket launches from United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. to fly a pair of Cygnus cargo ships to the station to help bridge the gap.

NASA's second cargo line, operated by privately owned SpaceX, also is temporarily grounded due to an unrelated accident of its Falcon 9 rocket in June.

The station, a $100 billion research laboratory that flies about 250 miles above Earth, is also serviced by Russian and Japanese freighters.