Russian deliver space station cargo after US flop
Russian deliver space station cargo after US flop ATLANTIC, Va. The company behind the dramatic launch explosion of a space station supply mission promises to find the cause of the failure and is warning residents to avoid any potentially hazardous wreckage. Orbital Sciences Corp.'s unmanned Antares rocket blew up just moments after liftoff Tuesday evening from the Virginia coast.
Meanwhile, early Wednesday, the Russian Space Agency launched its own cargo vessel from Kazakhstan and the spacecraft arrived at the International Space Station six hours later with 3 tons of food. The smooth flight was in stark contrast to the Orbital Sciences' failed launch, and had been planned well in advance of the accident.
The Orbital Sciences rocket was carrying a Cygnus capsule loaded with 2½ tons of space station experiments and equipment for NASA. No one was injured when the rocket exploded moments after liftoff, shooting flaming debris down onto the launch area and into the ocean.
Ground crews were ready to access the fire-stricken area of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility at daybreak Wednesday to search for accident debris.
The company's Cygnus cargo ship was carrying 5,000 pounds of experiments and equipment for NASA, as well as prepackaged meals and, in a generous touch, freeze-dried Maryland crabcakes for a Baltimore-born astronaut who's been in orbit for five months.
All of the lost materials will be replaced and flown to the 260-mile-high space station, NASA's station program manager Mike Suffredini said. The six-person space station crew has enough supplies to last well into spring.
The accident is sure to draw scrutiny to the space agency's growing reliance on private U.S. companies in the post-shuttle era. NASA is paying billions of dollars to Virginia-based Orbital Sciences and the California-based SpaceX company to make station deliveries, and it's counting on SpaceX and Boeing to start flying U.S. astronauts to the orbiting lab as early as 2017.
It was the fourth Cygnus bound for the orbiting lab; the first flew just over a year ago. SpaceX is scheduled to launch another Dragon supply ship from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in December.
The explosion of a commercial Antares rocket just seconds after lifting off from Virginia's Eastern Shore Tuesday night has touched off an in-depth investigation into the launch failure by NASA and the rocket's builder, the Orbital Sciences Corporation.
The Antares rocket exploded in a massive fireball just after its 6:22 p.m. EDT (2222 GMT) launch on Tuesday evening (Oct. 28) from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia. The rocket was carrying an unmanned Cygnus spacecraft — also built by Orbital — that was packed with about 2.5 tons of supplies for astronauts on the International Space Station.
Orbital Sciences, based in Dulles, Virginia, will lead the investigation into the Antares rocket launch failure, with the Federal Aviation Administration and NASA supporting the company's analysis. No one was injured during the rocket explosion, according to NASA and Orbital, and it is too early to tell what caused the failure. [See photos of the Antares rocket explosion]
"As far as the next steps for Antares, we will not fly until we understand the root cause and the corrective action necessary to ensure this doesn't happen again," Orbital Sciences executive vice president Frank Culbertson said during a news conference after the rocket failure. "It's way too early to tell how long that might take. We will go through the proper processes. We will do it professionally and thoroughly … But I can assure you that we will find out what went wrong. We will correct it, and we will fly again."
The Cygnus spacecraft was carrying about 5,000 lbs. (2,268 kilograms) of food, science supplies and other items when the rocket failure occurred. If the launch had gone off as planned, it would have kicked off Orbital Sciences' third resupply mission to the space station under a $1.9 billion contract for eight flights to the orbiting outpost for NASA.
Another company, the California-based firm SpaceX, has a separate contract for $1.6 billion to fly 12 robotic cargo delivery missions using its own Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rockets. SpaceX has flown four of those missions so far.
Orbital Sciences representatives do not yet know if the failure is related to the failed test of an AJ26 rocket engine (the type of rocket engines used in the Antares first stage) last May.
While Tuesday's launch failure is disappointing, the crewmembers on the space station have more than enough supplies onboard the orbiting outpost, according to Mike Suffredini, the head of NASA's International Space Station program office.
"We did inform the crew immediately after it [the launch failure] occurred," Suffredini said during the news conference. "We actually had the feed up to them, so they were witness to it. They were disappointed … Of course, they are well aware that they have plenty of resources on orbit to get along for some time and the vehicles that are getting up there in the near-term."
Russian officials are planning to launch an unmanned Progress cargo ship to the space station from Russia in the wee hours of Wednesday morning (Oct. 29), and SpaceX's fifth cargo mission is scheduled to launch in early December.
Two members of Congress also expressed their feelings about the failed launch.
"We add our disappointment to the thousands in the space community who worked tirelessly in support of Tuesday evening's launch attempt at Wallops Island," Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) said in a joint statement. "We are relieved to hear there are no reported fatalities, and we anticipate learning more about the circumstances surrounding the launch failure in the near future."
Smith is the chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, while Palazzo serves as the chair on the committee's Space subcommittee.
Editor's note: NASA officials are urging residents of the area around the launch site to keep away from any rocket debris that might wash up on shore or be found on land. If you think you may have found pieces of the rocket, please call the incident response team at (757) 824-1295.
Supply rocket explodes after liftoff.
This image taken from video provided by NASA TV shows Orbital Sciences Corp.'s unmanned rocket blowi …http://news.yahoo.com/cause-sought-space-supply-rocket-082528475.html
"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 human exploration chief, Bill Gerstenmaier, said in a statement following the accident.
Until Tuesday, all of the supply missions by Orbital Sciences and SpaceX had been near-flawless.
President Barack Obama has long championed this commercial space effort. He was in Wisconsin for a campaign rally and was kept informed.
Orbital Sciences' executive vice president Frank Culbertson said the company carried insurance on the mission, which he valued at more than $200 million, not counting repair costs. The explosion hit Orbital Science's stock, which fell more than 15 percent in after-hours trading.
John Logsdon, former space policy director at George Washington University, said the explosion was unlikely to be a major setback to NASA's commercial space plans. But he noted it could derail Orbital Sciences for a while given the company has just one launch pad and the accident occurred right above it.
At a news conference Tuesday night, Culbertson and others said everyone at the launch site had been accounted for and the damage appeared to be limited to the facilities.
He noted that the cargo module was carrying hazardous materials and warned residents to avoid any contact with debris.
"Certainly don't go souvenir hunting along the beach," he said.
.Rocket Explosion Under Investigation. Play video
Rocket Explosion Under Investigation:
A NASA TV image showing fires burning near the Cygnus Rocket launch pad after the planned launch of the rocket from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Wallop Island, Virginia, Tuesday October 28, 2014. (NASA TV)
Supply rocket explodes after liftoff - watch video here - http://news.yahoo.com/cause-sought-space-supply-rocket-082528475.html
A commercial supply ship bound for the International Space Station has exploded moments after liftoff.
Orbital Sciences Corp.'s unmanned rocket blew up over the launch complex at Wallops Island, Virginia, just six seconds after liftoff. The company says no one was believed to be hurt and the damage appeared to be limited to the facilities.
Flames could be seen shooting into the sky as the sun set.
Things began to go wrong 10 to 12 seconds into the flight and it was all over in 20 seconds when what was left of the rocket came crashing down, Culbertson said. He said he believes the range-safety staff sent a destruct signal before it hit the ground, but was not certain.
This was the second launch attempt for the mission. Monday evening's try was thwarted by a stray sailboat in the rocket's danger zone. The restrictions are in case of just such an accident that occurred Tuesday.
Culbertson said the top priority will be repairing the launch pad "as quickly and safely as possible."
"We will not fly until we understand the root cause," he said, adding that it was too early to guess how long it might take to make the rocket repairs and fix the launch pad. It will take a few weeks, alone, to assess the damage and extent of potential repairs.
Culbertson also stressed that it was too soon to know whether the Russian-built engines, modified for the Antares and extensively tested, were to blame.
"We will understand what happened — hopefully soon — and we'll get things back on track," Culbertson assured his devastated team. "We've all seen this happen in our business before, and we've all seen the teams recover from this, and we will do the same."
The Wallops facility is small compared to NASA's major centers like those in Florida, Texas and California, but vaulted into the public spotlight in September 2013 with a NASA moonshot and the first Cygnus launch to the space station.
Michelle Murphy, an innkeeper at the Garden and Sea Inn, New Church, Virginia, where launches are visible across a bay about 16 miles away, saw the explosion.
"It was scary. Everything rattled," she said. "There were two explosions. The first one we were ready for. The second one we weren't. It shook the inn, like an earthquake. It was extremely intense."
Among the instruments that were lost from the cargo module: a meteor tracker and 32 mini research satellites, along with numerous experiments compiled by schoolchildren.
The two Americans, three Russians and one German on the orbiting space station were watching a live video feed from Mission Control and saw the whole thing unfold, Suffredini said.
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