An unmanned Antares rocket exploded shortly after launching from NASA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Wallops Island, Virginia.
At 6.22 pm EDT on Tuesday October 28th, the cargo-carrying rocket exploded six seconds after setting off on its mission to the International Space Station.
The countdown was routine and the rocket launched as scheduled, but then burst into flames moments later. Rocket debris crashed down to the launch pad, causing an extensive flaming wreck-site.
With all personnel at Wallops believed to be safe and accounted for, luckily the explosion did not cause any injuries or deaths. This is the first catastrophic launch failure since NASA began its commercial spaceflight effort.
The American based Orbital Sciences Corp. has a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to supply the International Space Station.
The company’s initial statement concerning the accident, sent via Twitter, offered no explanation as to the cause, saying: “There has been a vehicle anomaly. We will update as soon as we are able.”
Later, Frank Culbertson, Orbital executive vice president, said in a statement:
“It is far too early to know the details of what happened, as we begin to gather information, our primary concern lies with the ongoing safety and security of those involved in our response and recovery operations.
“We will conduct a thorough investigation immediately to determine the cause of this failure and what steps can be taken to avoid a repeat of this incident. As soon as we understand the cause we will begin the necessary work to return to flight to support our customers and the nation’s space program.”
This mission was to be the third of eight commercial resupply missions by Orbital Sciences, one of two companies hired by NASA to fly cargo to the station after the space shuttles were retired.
NASA has stated on its website that “a mishap occurred shortly after lift off,” whilst promising to provide more information as updates come in. They are working with Orbital Sciences to gather data on the mission’s failure.
The rocket was topped with a Cygnus spacecraft, carrying 2290kg of cargo for six crew members living aboard the space station, including the Arkyd-6 satellite and what NASA called “classified crypto equipment”. The cargo also included a wide variety of everyday items like clothes and food, along with working equipment like tools, replacement parts and scientific experiments.
Fortunately, NASA said that the near term repercussions of this event will not effect the space station operations or the crew members themselves.
Alice Hargreaves Jones
Feature Image: NASA