An unmanned Antares rocket carrying a space capsule – loaded with supplies for the International Space Station – exploded in a massive fireball six seconds after liftoff Tuesday afternoon (October 28, 2014) from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia. The video above shows the 14-story rocket faltering just after its launch at 6:22 p.m. EDT, then exploding, before falling back onto the launch pad with a second larger explosion.
No one was hurt, but the rocket itself was a total loss, and the Wallops launch pad appears to have been extensively damaged. NASA said the damage was limited to the south end of Wallops Island.
A broadcaster on NASATV said as the event occurred:
Launch team, launch team, be advised, remain at your consoles …
A mishap has occurred at pad 0A. There is no indication there is personnel in danger. Although we do have significant property damage and significant vehicle damage.
NASA officials say the space agency is currently trying to determine what caused the explosion, and the extent of the damage.
The Antares rocket was built under contract with Orbital Sciences. The rocket has had five successful launches prior to this incident. According to Orbital Sciences’ general manager Frank Culbertson, the rocket itself was worth a little over $200 million. It was partially insured. This price does not include the damage to the launch facility itself
Culbertson said the first stage of the rocket was fueled with liquid oxygen and kerosene, most of which is expected to have burned off fairly quickly. The second stage is powered by a solid propellant that may have burned in the accident.
The spacecraft also carried toxic hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. That is why NASA is warning the public not to go souvenir hunting under these circumstances. NASA said in a press conference on the evening of October 28 that if strange debris is found, members of the public should not touch or go near it. Instead, call an Incident Response Team +1 757 824 1295.
According to the Baltimore Sun:
Orbital Sciences, headquartered in Fairfax County [Virginia], was one of two companies hired by NASA to fly cargo to the station after the agency retired the space shuttles. The flight Tuesday was to be the third of eight under a $1.9 billion contract.
The second U.S. supply line to the station is run by Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX. The California-based company is preparing for its fourth flight Dec. 9 under a separate, $1.6 billion NASA contract.
In the video below, you can hear people yelling “get down, get down” as the explosion occurs.
Bottom line: NASATV broadcast live the spectacular failure Tuesday (October 28, 2014) of Orbital Science’s Antares rocket. The rocket had been bound for the International Space Station, loaded with supplies, when it exploded seconds after launch and fell back to Earth with a second, more powerful explosion. No causalities reported at this time, but there appears to be extensive damage.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.