29 Oct NASA’s Antares launch results in explosion
Following a scrub of the Antares launch yesterday when a boat entered the hazard range, the new scheduled time for liftoff was 6:22pm ET today for the space craft carrying 5000 pounds of supplies to the International Space Station. The unmanned cargo ship was obviously destined for failure though, a mere six seconds after take off it exploded at an estimated 200ft off the ground. NASA have said all personnel on the ground are accounted for and no injuries have been sustained as a result of the failed mission.
What exactly does this mean for Orbital with regards to its bid for resupplying ISS? Back in 2008, giving Orbital’s history in the industry, it made sense that it would win the 3.5 billion contract from NASA over competitors who lacked any history at all at the time, namely Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The past few years have seen Musk excite the industry and the concern is whether or not an explanation strong enough to write this explosion off can be formed in time to keep Orbital’s good reputation in place. Unfortunately given the volatile nature of the practise, explosions such as this are a legitimate reality and luckily this time, there were no passengers on board, what this failed mission goes towards highlighting is how much of an improvement is necessary if SpaceX or Virgin Galactic want to effectively ferry passengers into space with even a basic guarantee for their safety.
The catastrophic failure will be the subject of an immediate and thorough investigation, it is far too early to know the exact details of what went wrong with the launch but a scheduled news conference took place at 9:00pm ET in which Bill Gerstenmaier said ”launch is a really touchy business, and tonight’s event really shows how difficult it is for us to do this task… We feel for Orbital” Frank Culbertson went on to add that although the event was disappointing it was ”Not as tragic as losing a life, all we lost was hardware…”, he continued ”something went wrong and we will find out what that is and we will come back and fly again in the very near future” he went on to elaborate on the investigation actions that will take place. The investigation will include finding the debris. ”This is an accident site, it was a rocket and it had a lot of hazardous material on board” Culbertson went on to implore the public ”…if you find anything that washes ashore, please make sure you contact local authorities, do not touch it” Investigation starts first thing tomorrow morning at daybreak, recovering debris from the crash site and cataloguing finds, those tuned in to the live conference were assured that once a full investigation has taken place and a cause has been established, corrective action will be taken and Orbital will fly again as soon as they safely can. Emergency responders have been on the scene since the event took place. Official spokespersons said that they always prepare for this possibility and went on to admit that ”This happens from time to time, our main goal is protecting public safety. We have every confidence in the Orbital team, figuring out the root cause and getting back to flying”. Addressing concerns regarding the crew in ISS the public were assured that there are enough provisions and logistics on board to keep the crew going for anywhere between 4 to 6 months on the off chance that a resupply mission doesn’t make it. So far it seems aside from the sheer cost of a failed mission and perhaps, confidence, the only other real loss today was the research hardware on board which spokespersons seem sure can be retrieved.
A pilot in Cessna caught incredible footage of the explosion at 3,000ft: