NASA TV captured live footage Tuesday night of the accidental explosion of an Orbital Sciences rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station during launch, resulting in an enormous fireball witnessed by countless bystanders and their cameras around (and in one case above) NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. (RELATED: INCREDIBLE Footage Of Rocket Exploding During Launch)
The unmanned Antares rocket was powering an Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo spacecraft loaded with 5,000 pounds of supplies, science equipment and experiments for the ISS when it exploded in midair moments after takeoff above pad 0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. The rocket and ship were valued at $200 million.
The explosion of the 14-story Antares rocket is under investigation and marks the first disaster since NASA began contracting out ISS resupply and other missions to private space companies. Antares is powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ-26 engine built by GenCorp Inc — the same engine that exploded during a test at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi earlier this summer.
“There was no cargo that was absolutely critical to us that was lost on that flight. The crew is in no danger,” NASA Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier said Tuesday according to a Reuters report.
An unmanned Russian Progress supply vehicle launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan hours after the explosion to carry replacement supplies including food and fuel to the ISS.
Orbital Sciences Executive Vice President and mission director Frank Culbertson said investigators would have a “pretty good idea” of where the problem started within a few days.
“What exactly caused it may take a little bit longer and corrective action probably will take some time, from weeks to months,” Culbertson said.
“Orbital has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first two missions to the station earlier this year, and we know they can replicate that success,” NASA said in statement Tuesday night. “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’s second commercial resupply contractor, SpaceX, will launch its fourth mission to the ISS on Dec. 9.