October 28, 2014 – Orbital Sciences Corporation’s third contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station exploded shortly after lift-off at 4:22 p.m. MDT today. The vehicle and cargo were destroyed and there appears to be major damage to Pad OA at Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Wallops, Virginia.
The uncrewed Antares ORB-3 carried almost 5,000 pounds of hardware for the International Space Station, crew supplies, and numerous scientific experiments. There were no injuries reported and all personnel around the Wallops Flight Facility launch site have been accounted for.
Antares is a two-stage launch vehicle consisting of a liquid-fueled liquid Oxygen/refined kerosene first stage powered by two Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ26 engines. The second stage is an ATK CASTOR 30XL solid motor. Antares employs a 32.5 ft. (9.9 meter) fairing to protect Cygnus from atmospheric heating as it accelerates through Earth’s atmosphere. Before launch, the Orbital team was not tracking any issues.
The Orbital Sciences team is executing its contingency procedures, securing the site and data, including all telemetry from the Antares launch vehicle and Cygnus spacecraft. Orbital has formed an anomaly investigation board, which will work in close coordination with all appropriate government agencies, to determine the cause of today’s mishap.
“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.”
Under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) agreement with NASA, Orbital is under contract to deliver approximately 20 metric tons of cargo to the International Space Station during the course of eight missions. Orbital CRS-3 was the third of these missions. A successful Orbital CRS-2 mission was conducted from July 13 to Aug. 17, 2014.
The International Space Station is the cornerstone of NASA and the nation’s strategy for human spaceflight and the exploration of space. The operations and research onboard the space station and the agency’s work with U.S. companies to deliver cargo to the orbital complex are indispensable parts of NASA’s integrated human exploration strategy to sending astronauts farther into the solar system and enabling them to operate with increasing independence of Earth.
The impact of today’s explosion is mainly limited to research that was headed to the ISS and damage to the launch area. There is a comfortable amount of food and supplies on the International Space Station and the next ISS cargo mission, Progress M-25M, will be launching on Wednesday atop a Soyuz 2-1A rocket. Two more ISS flights are also scheduled: Soyuz TMA on November 29 and SpaceX Dragon CRS5 on December 9.