Note: This is a developing story and this article will be updated as more details become available.
Moments after lifting off at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, the unmanned Antares rocket meant to bring cargo to the International Space Station exploded. This was to be the third commercial resupply mission by Orbital Sciences. The explosion occurred at 6:22 pm EDT on October 28, six seconds after launching.
No injuries or deaths are believed to have occurred because of this failed launch, with all personnel at Wallops safe and accounted for.
NASA officials have described the event as a “catastrophic anomaly” but have not pointed to a cause of explosion yet. NASA reports that the team did not experience any warning signs prior to launch that there would be a problem.
The Cygnus spacecraft atop the rocket was carrying 2290 kg (5050 lbs) of cargo for the International Space Station, including the Arkyd-3 satellite. The launch was scheduled for October 27, but had to be scrubbed at the last minute due to a sail boat downrange of the launch site.
A press conference began at 9:30 pm EDT to discuss the preliminary findings of the failed launch. Tune in here:
Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream
William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator of Human Exploration and Operations, stated during a press conference that astronauts aboard the ISS are still well-stocked with enough supplies to last until March if necessary, and no critical cargo was lost during the failed launch. The cargo that was lost in the incident will be replaced and sent on subsequent flights while Orbital regroups and gets flight-ready again, though it will be a few weeks before they will know when that will be.
At the time of the press conference, there were still no details as of what caused the launch to fail. The debris from the disaster is currently being collected for the ongoing investigation, while telemetry is also analyzed. Residents near Wallops who find pieces that have been washed ashore are asked not to touch anything, as it could be contaminated with hazardous materials. Those finding such pieces are asked to alert the authorities so it can be properly collected.
As of 9:30 pm EDT, the fire is still ongoing while the propellant burns out, though it is contained. The extent of the damage to the launch pad has not yet been evaluated, and full environmental impact cannot be determined either. As this launch pad is the only one capable of launching Antares rockets, repairing any damage will be top priority, though no more of the rockets will launch until the root cause of the explosion is identified and corrected.
The rocket, spacecraft, and cargo total about $200 million, but until the damage to the launch pad and surrounding area is assessed, the full monetary loss will not be known.