I was blown away to hear this news just a few hours after the launch. The Antares rocket exploded on the launchpad just six seconds after launch. Yesterday’s post discussed how the Antares-Cygnus resupply launch was delayed by a lone man in a boat who had no clue he was in the blast zone.
First of all, it’s important to note that no one was hurt, including all personnel on site and in the control room. This was an unmanned rocket, so the major loss was the resupply capsule and its cargo, not to mention the loss of the $250 Million dollar hardware. The astronauts on the International Space Station will be fine as well and will not be short of supplies, as there are two more supply missions in the next few weeks, including a SpaceX Dragon launch.
During the launch, it appeared that something was wrong with the first rocket stage, as there was a fire. The rocket engines of the first stage then exploded in mid air, and the rocket was sent falling back to Earth where it triggered a massive explosion on the launchpad. You can watch the video below:
NASA’s Official statement regarding the incident was released a few hours later from William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Directorate:
“While NASA is disappointed that Orbital Sciences’ third contracted resupply mission to the International Space Station was not successful today, we will continue to move forward toward the next attempt once we fully understand today’s mishap. The crew of the International Space Station is in no danger of running out of food or other critical supplies.
“Orbital has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first two missions to the station earlier this year, and we know they can replicate that success. Launching rockets is an incredibly difficult undertaking, and we learn from each success and each setback. Today’s launch attempt will not deter us from our work to expand our already successful capability to launch cargo from American shores to the International Space Station.”
Still, with a $1.9 Billion contract from NASA, Orbital Sciences has got to be reeling from this mishap. Their official statement is as follows:
“It is far too early to know the details of what happened,” said Mr. Frank Culbertson, Orbital’s Executive Vice President and General Manager of its Advanced Programs Group. “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.”
Here’s a bit of background information on the Antares rockets and the entire Orbital Sciences mission contract.
You can take a look at the cargo manifest from the mission to see what was actually lost. To give you an idea, in these missions, aside from supplies, there are always experiments from small organizations. For example, from the list, “One investigation by students from Duchesne
Academy of the Sacred Heart in Houston tests the performance of pea shoot growth in space.” Not exactly Nobel prize work to be sure, but those kids were probably watching this launch with anticipation, and now their projects are gone. It’s hard to see this kind of thing because a lot of the experiments going up are from small and medium-sized organizations who are getting their big break after years of work to prepare such a project.
With all that’s happened Its not like a rocket has never exploded on the launchpad before, in fact here’s a 30 minute compilation of rocket failures from NASA and other worldwide space organizations. This is how we learn to make rockets work. Its experimental science in its purest form. Its sad that there were so many losses of great science experiments, but luckily there was no loss of life and in the coming weeks we will hopefully learn what went wrong.
I’m sure NASA will be glad to give the kids another opportunity to send up some pea plants, and finally get their change to experience space flight.