An Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded seconds after its 6:22 p.m. lift-off from Wallops Island, Virginia, Tuesday on a mission to resupply the International Space Station. No one was hurt, but the rocket was apparently destroyed and there was “significant property damage”, according to mission control commentators on NASA television.
“We have lost the vehicle,” said controllers from the Johnson Space Center in Houston. “The [space station] crew has been informed of the accident.”
Orbital moved almost immediately into contingency mode, asking its engineers to retain all notes and photographs related to the launch. Fires could be seen burning across the launch pad. “Obviously we will need to instigate an accident investigation team,” the launch director said.
Orbital, of Dulles, Virginia, is one of two private companies flying cargo to the space station for NASA. Its competitor, SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, is aiming to eventually carry astronauts as well.
It was the third of eight scheduled missions for Orbital. Among the 2,300 kilograms of cargo on board were a spectrometer to measure meteors entering the atmosphere and a neck collar for astronauts to measure blood flow from the brain. The payload also included test hardware for a future private asteroid prospecting mission, as well as unspecified classified cryptography equipment.
Launch of a Russian Progress vehicle, scheduled for the morning of 29 October with more crew supplies, was not expected to be affected.