An Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft exploded as it lifted off Tuesday evening over a launchpad at NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. No injuries were reported following the explosion.
In a NASA press release Tuesday night immediately following the accident William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Directorate stated, “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 cargo delivery flight was contracted with Orbital Sciences Corporation is a private U.S. company working with NASA. The official press release went on to say, “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.”
The launch was originally scheduled for Monday evening, but had to be scrubbed when a sailboat about 26 feet long entered the hazard zone early in the launch count.
The 5,000 pounds of NASA cargo payload of Tuesday’s launch included supplies for the International Space Station, including science experiments, experiment hardware, spare parts, and crew provisions. Nearly 7,000 students and their teachers participated in Student Spaceflight Experiments Program Mission 6 to the International Space Station.
With NASA’s growing reliance on private U.S. companies in the post shuttle space program, the Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore has been the sight of many unmanned rocket launches over the past few years. Tuesday’s mishap was the first catastrophic launch in NASA’s commercial spaceflight effort.
In November of 2013, NASA CubeSats and an Air Force Satellite were launched from Wallops Island. The thirteen small mini satellites known as CubeSats, included the first CubeSat built by high school students.
In September of 2013, the first-ever lunar mission launched from Wallops Island, Virginia was a success. The payload was known as LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer), a robotic mission that will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust.