NASA releases more information on Antares explosion

NASA releases more information on Antares explosion
The accident occurred less than 20 seconds after lift off of the Antares rocket (Image: NASA)
The accident occurred less than 20 seconds after lift off of the Antares rocket (Image: NASA)
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The Cygnus freighter was lost in the explosion (Image" NASA)
The Cygnus freighter was lost in the explosion (Image" NASA)
The accident occurred less than 20 seconds after lift off of the Antares rocket (Image: NASA)
The accident occurred less than 20 seconds after lift off of the Antares rocket (Image: NASA)

At a press conference arranged only a few hours after the event, NASA released details of the explosion of the Antares rocket carrying the unmanned Cygnus supply ship to the International Space Station (ISS). The space agency said that the launch pad at Wallops Island, Virginia, where the 240,000-kg (530,000-lb) rocket went up in flames seconds after lift off has been cordoned off by firefighters until daylight because of the on-going hazards from fires, and scattered solid and hypergolic fuel from the Antares.

NASA says that Orbital Sciences Corporation (the builders and operators of the Cygnus and Antares), the US FAA, and NASA are investigating what happened to the Antares rocket when it was destroyed at 6:22 pm EDT. It suffered a “catastrophic anomaly” 10 to 12 seconds after launch, after which the range safety officer activated the rocket’s autodestruct. No injuries were reported and all personnel have been accounted for, with damage confined to the south end of Wallops Island, though there was some debris was scattered over the water.

At the press conference, NASA and Orbital Science representatives said that the explosion resulted in the loss of the US$200 million spacecraft, plus damage to the ground facilities. Pad damage was sustained, but instrument readings indicate that some systems are still holding pressure, so are not seriously damaged. However, the exact extent of the accident is still unknown. In addition, the spacecraft processing facilities seem undamaged.

The Cygnus freighter was lost in the explosion (Image" NASA)
The Cygnus freighter was lost in the explosion (Image" NASA)

The destruction of the Cygnus freighter means the loss of 5,000 lb (2,200 kg) of cargo originally destined for the ISS. Because of this, the manifest for later missions will have to be swapped around to make up for the destruction of the cargo ship. However, NASA says that the station is in no danger because there was no critical cargo aboard and that the ISS can remain functioning without resupply for four to six months. In addition, a Progress supply ship launches on Wednesday and a SpaceX Dragon is scheduled to launch on December 9.

The explosion also destroyed a piggyback cargo from the asteroid mining start up, Planetary Resources. The company was sending up its Arkyd 3 demonstrator, but in a statement Planetary Resources said that it had already met its objectives by delivering the miniature space telescope to the launch pad and that another launch of its Arkyd 6 is scheduled to launch next year.

According to NASA, the investigation into the accident will include moving into the area when it’s been deemed safe, during which debris will be tagged, collected, and sent off for analysis. In addition, the investigators are working on securing and reviewing telemetry and video from the launch vehicle and cargo craft. The investigation is expected to take weeks. In the meantime, the public are warned to remain away from the area and if they find any debris from the accident, they are not to touch it and to call 757-824-1295.

In a statement, William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, said:

"While NASA is disappointed that Orbital Sciences' third contracted resupply mission to the International Space Station was not successful today, we will continue to move forward toward the next attempt once we fully understand today's mishap. The crew of the International Space Station is in no danger of running out of food or other critical supplies.

"Orbital has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first two missions to the station earlier this year, and we know they can replicate that success. Launching rockets is an incredibly difficult undertaking, and we learn from each success and each setback. Today's launch attempt will not deter us from our work to expand our already successful capability to launch cargo from American shores to the International Space Station."

NASA says further information will be released as it becomes available.

Source: NASA

Of course, asking the Russians to help send supplies to the ISS might be out of the question, since it would now be perceived as unpatriotic.
Space exploration and technology should be shared by everyone for the good of all. If anything can bond us together towards a unified goal, it's this kind of pursuit, but I'm not holding my breath!
Lutz Herting
Let's see what the other partners have to say about that. The ISS is an international project with NASA being just one of the partners. While they may be forced to somewhat concern themselves with American patriotism, the rest of the world isn't.
I'd check the O rings first ;-/
Wayne Day
for those who dare to push the edge of that envelope , thank god you people do that !
Ken Dawson
While this incident was a tragedy, it shows the benefit of building a commercial space infrastructure. This part was good news: " ...a Progress supply ship launches on Wednesday and a SpaceX Dragon is scheduled to launch on December 9" Having 2, 4, or 100s of competitors will ultimately make space travel reliable and affordable. Better luck next time Orbital.
Gregg Eshelman
Was the Russian engine on the rocket one of the 50-ish year old refurbished leftovers from the Soviet N1 moon program failure, or a new one based on that design?
Soviet rocket scientists were ordered to destroy everything for the N1 to hide its failure, but they saved all the engines in a warehouse and over the past few years have been selling them to rocket companies that refurbish them and update various things.
Why that ex-Soviet engine design is so much desired is it uses a closed combustion cycle where the turbopump exhaust is routed to the main combustion chamber instead of being dumped uselessly through a low pressure exhaust pipe. That improves the efficiency of the engine quite a bit, allowing the same payload to be launched with less fuel.
Until those engines were revealed to the outside world, it was widely considered by European and American rocket scientists to be impossible to build a closed cycle engine. They'd tried, several times, and failed, often explosively.
The Soviets just kept working on closed cycle designs until they made it work, most of the time.
Every attempt at an N1 launch failed due to one or more of the 30 first stage engines going kablooie.
Why not take the easy path and just ask the guy that pushed the auto destruct button why he did it? Then report what he said instead all the investigation babble. Is it an easy button to push by accident? He has to be accountable as to why it was used...what did he say? The rocket didn't blow up on its own. According to your article the range safety officer initiated auto destruct. "An anomaly" is lacking of good reporting skills for that situation. Are they hiding something like the guy got a mosquito bite and accidentally pushed the button when he slapped at the insect?