The Antares rocket carrying an unmanned Cygnus suffered a ‘catastrophic anomaly’ seconds after liftoff from NASA’s Wallops flight facility in Virginia at 06:22 PM EDT. The rocket crashed down to the launching pad causing damage to some of the facilities in the southern part of the island. The facility that was damaged today is the only one supporting the Antares vehicles. No injuries were reported.
The rocket was built by private company Orbital Sciences. Cygnus was packed with 5,000 pounds (2.268 tons) of food and supplies, scientific experiments destined to the International Space Station. It was the fourth cargo mission under a $1.9 billion contract for 12 supply missions to run through 2017 that Orbital Sciences has won from NASA.
Today’s flight was the first using a more powerful Russian made rocket, but it is too early to determine whether the uprated rocket has been the cause of the failure.
According to William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, human exploration and operations at NASA, the loss of cargo will not cause shortage of supplies at the ISS as the station still packs enough supplies to sustain the crew and mission through early 2015. A Russian Progress spacecraft is scheduled to be launched from Baikonur tomorrow, loaded with another load of supply. Orbital is scheduled to fly again in December, but that mission could be delayed, given the results of the investigation of today’s failure.