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US cargo delivery rocket explodes soon after launch

An unmanned rocket that was on its way to the International space station to drop off several thousand kilos worth of supplies to the waiting astronauts, has exploded shortly after leaving the launchpad. Nobody was hurt in the incident, but it’s expected to delay any future launches at the Wallops Flight Facility in East Virigina, due to damage to the launch pad itself.

antares

The Antares rocket was one of many built by Orbital Sciences Corporation, which NASA had sub-contracted cargo missions to since the retirement of the Shuttle program in 2011. This would have been the third flight conducted with an Orbital Sciences rocket, but it was not to be.

Seconds after leaving the ground, the rocket seemed to combust in on itself, collapsing to the ground shortly after and exploding, damaging the landing pad and associated equipment, as well as property on the south of the island. Orbital Sciences, along with NASA, will be conducting an investigation to discover what fault caused the explosion and subsequent crash. In the mean time, supply runs to the ISS will be picked up by other companies and their rockets.

“It  is  far  too  early  to  know  the  details  of  what  happened,”  said  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.”

As the BBC reports, part of the investigation into what went wrong looks likely to focus on the AJ-26 engines, which are essentially retrofitted Soviet NK-33 engines from the 70s. While cleared for usage after being fitted with US electronics and propellant, one did explode during a test earlier this year.

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KitGuru Says: Thankfully no one was hurt in the explosion, but I imagine the guys on the ISS were looking forward to some fresh supplies. I wonder which country or company will step up to get it to them.

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