NASA-contracted Antares rocket spectacularly exploded at launch to ISS


A rocket built for NASA by a private contractor exploded shortly after lifting off Tuesday night from the space agency's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

The unmanned Antares rocket was carrying about 5,000 pounds of supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). It was built by a Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC) and launched in collaboration with the space agency.

Problems became apparent only 6 seconds into the 6:22 p.m. launch when the rocket stopped climbing, started falling and two radio operators shouted over each other.

Stunned silence accompanied the rocket's stunning fall back to Earth and spectacular explosion when it hit the ground.

A radio operator advised all staffers on the launch to remain at their work stations, according to audio of the launch on NASA TV. Later instructions strangely included the scrubbing of all launch notes and observations.

A statement issued to CNN shortly after the accident said "there was no apparent loss of life," but significant damage to property and vehicles.

The privately-built rocket's mission was meant to provide supplies to astronauts on the ISS, and observers online immediately wondered what the ramifications to the ISS were. About 1,360 pounds of food were included in the supplies.

Also included in the payload were 1,602 pounds of science experiments, 1,404 pounds of vehicle hardware, 273 pounds of flight equipment, 145 pounds of spacewalk equipment, about 82 pounds of computers and 15 pounds of flight procedures manuals, according to NASA.

The space agency's launch commander said "classified crypto equipment" was also included in the payload, but no further information was provided.

The ISS cannot be used for military or spy purposes.

Antares was seen by NASA as the first step towards the future of space travel and exploration when a nearly $2 billion contract was awarded by the space agency to OSC.

The company called the incident a "vehicle anomaly" in an official statement.

"It is far too early to know the details of what happened," said Mr. Frank Culbertson, Orbital's Executive Vice President and General Manager of its Advanced Programs Group.

"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," he continued. "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."

Experts who spoke to CNN believe there may have been a self-destruction of the rocket after it's first launch stage failed. It is not clear if that would have been a manual or automated process, if the rocket did self-destruct.

The launch was originally scheduled for Monday evening but scrubbed because a boat was in the area off Wallops Island.

Another privately-built rocket, from SpaceX, is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral no earlier than December.

NASA's Unmanned Antares Rocket Explodes on Launch - NASA TV
NASA's Unmanned Antares Rocket Explodes on Launch - NASA TV

Related links:
Stunning photos of the partial solar eclipse from across America
Top-secret space plane lands on California coast