NASA has a released a report into last year’s Orbital ATK Antares rocket accident.
The mission was intended to send supplies up to the International Space Station (ISS). However, when launched on the evening of October 28, 2014, it went up in a ball of flames, less than 10 seconds after lift off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Although the rocket, cargo, and launch pad were heavily damaged, there were luckily no injuries or fatalities.
The investigation into the crash was started in November 2014 by NASA's Independent Review Team (IRT), which comprised 12 people, supported by 31 additional employees. To compile the report they had access to the telemetry, data, documents, and interviews with key personnel.
The enquiry found there was an explosion in the liquid oxygen turbopump of “E15”– one of the two main AJ26 engines. This led to the rocket losing thrust and falling back to the Earth. It’s believed the cause of the explosion started in the turbopump because rotating and stationary components rubbed together, causing huge amounts of friction and heat.
Above is a video of the explosion.
The report was unable to determine a single root cause for this malfunction, though. It said: “The IRT was not able to isolate a single technical root cause for the E15 fire and explosion.” It reasoned that it could either be a manufacturing defect, a foreign object obstruction or “inadequate design robustness.”
However, Orbital ATK, the manufacturers and designers of the rocket, completed a report into the crash earlier this year which came to more concrete conclusions. Its investigation said it was “highly probable” it was a design fault with the turbopump, which was manufactured over 40 years ago in the former Soviet Union.
“The thorough work of the NASA team is essential to ensure the agency continues to learn and improve,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in a statement. “This unfortunate event provides a tremendous opportunity for the industry and NASA team to improve vehicle development, acquisition, and operations. The findings from this team will provide a basis to begin discussions on future areas for improvement. Even though not all recommendations will be implemented as written, all the recommendations will enable positive lessons for the agency.”