Tags: space | Orbital | space station | explodes | launch

Unmanned Rocket to Space Station Explodes Seconds After Launch

By    |   Tuesday, 28 October 2014 06:50 PM

An unmanned rocket exploded Tuesday evening seconds after launch on a resupply mission to the International Space Station, with flaming debris falling over the launch site on the eastern shore of Virginia.

No injuries were reported following the first catastrophic launch in NASA's commercial spaceflight effort, but fires were still burning at the accident site more than three hours later.

Bill Wrobel, director of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, said the team is "letting the fires burn out," as the area is very hazardous and dangerous. "But they are contained."

The accident at 6:22 p.m. ET at the Orbital Sciences Corp. launch complex at Wallops Island was sure to draw criticism over the space agency's growing reliance on private U.S. companies in this post-shuttle effort.

Flames from the Antares rocket were seen shooting into the air on the NASA television website just after the rocket lifted off. Fires could also be seen burning at the coastal launch pad at sunset.

"We have lost the Orb-3 vehicle," mission control in Houston said on NASA television, after the lift-off at Wallops Island, Virginia.

During a conference call with reporters, officials from NASA and Orbital spoke about the accident.

"What we know so far is pretty much what everybody saw on the video," said Orbital Sciences vice president Frank Culbertson, a former astronaut. "There was some disassembly of the first stage, it looked like, and then it fell to the Earth. We don't have access to all the data yet."

Culbertson said in the event of an accident, data is "locked down" and then analyzed. "We don't really have any early indications as to exactly what exactly might have failed, and we need some time to look at that," he added.

NASA is paying billions of dollars to Orbital Sciences and the SpaceX company to make station deliveries, and it's counting on SpaceX and Boeing to start flying U.S. astronauts to the orbiting lab as early as 2017.

It was unclear what caused the explosion aboard the Cygnus cargo ship. Officials said there were no preliminary indications of problems before the launch.

Culbertson, however, did confirm that after a problem was detected upon liftoff, the decision was made in the first 20 seconds to end the flight via the flight termination system.

"All the damage seems to be confined to the pad area, we don't know the extent of that yet," Culbertson said. "As far as we know, there was no any other impact on any other processing facilities."

According to CNN, the launch director said on NASA's feed that there was "crypto equipment" onboard the spacecraft, and it was important to maintain the area around the debris field for the investigation to come.

Everyone on the ground has been accounted for, "although we do have significant property damage and significant vehicle damage" among the debris, NASA said.

NASA mission control said the "catastrophic anomaly" occurred just after the spacecraft blasted off toward the International Space Station carrying 5,000 pounds of supplies for the six astronauts living at the research outpost.

NASA spokesman Rob Navias said there nothing on the lost flight that was urgently needed by the six people living on the space station. The crew has enough food and water to last through March, officials said on the call with reporters. Further, there are two upcoming launches — one Wednesday morning and one on Dec. 9 — that will send supplies to the space station.

But scientists and students behind all the research on board were surely devastated. About one-third of the contents of the Cygnus involved science research. Supplies include 32 mini research satellites, a meteor tracker, and a tank of high-pressure nitrogen to replenish a vestibule used by spacewalking astronauts.

It was the first nighttime launch of an Antares rocket, said Orbital.

The mission, known as CRS-3, was to be Orbital's third trip to the space station.

The initial scheduled launch was scrubbed on Monday, getting to within the 10-minute mark for the Virginia launch of the Cygnus capsule.

But a sailboat ended up in the restricted danger zone in the waters around Wallops Island, and controllers halted the Monday evening countdown.

According to the Associated Press, Orbital had tucked some treats onto the rocket for a post-Halloween celebration by the two Americans, three Russians, and one German onboard the International Space Station.

At Sunday's prelaunch news conference, Culbertson did not want to divulge the type of goodies and spoil the surprise. "They might be watching," he said, smiling.

The investigation will include the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), although the NTSB may be involved in a "monitor mode" only, according to an official on the NASA feed.

Officials warned the public not to go near any debris and asked that they contact the incident response team at 757-824-1295 if they find anything.

A team will begin the task of looking through debris and wreckage at daybreak Wednesday.

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An unmanned rocket exploded Tuesday evening seconds after launch on a resupply mission to the International Space Station, with flaming debris falling over the launch site on the eastern shore of Virginia.
space, Orbital, space station, explodes, launch
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 06:50 PM
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