Unmanned rocket carrying supplies explodes

The Antares rocket explodes soon after takeoff during an unmanned flight to bring supplies such as food and other equipment to the International Space Station.

On October 28, 2014, an unmanned Antares rocket, built by Orbital Sciences Corporation, exploded just after it launched. The rocket was carrying supplies, which included food, science experiments, and equipment, to the International Space Station. No one was injured in this incident. Several buildings nearby, however, were damaged. The launch complex itself requires some repairs. Orbital has begun an investigation in the cause of the rocket’s failure. Two Antares rocket launches have successfully carried supplies to the ISS in the past. The company has a $1.9 billion dollar deal with NASA for eight supply missions; the cost of the recent failure is valued at $200 million, not including repair costs. Further Antares rocket launches have been grounded until the cause of malfunction itself is found.

The rocket’s explosion was triggered deliberately after it became clear that the rocket began would not make it to orbit, causing it to fall on the ground near, but not on, the launch pad. This procedure is intended to minimize collateral damage in populated communities should a rocket deviate from its intended flight path. Orbital Sciences is optimistic in its endeavors in finding the root cause of the failure because of the plethora of debris in the launch-zone.

The problem occurred in the first stage of the rocket’s launch, which suggests that the dated Russian-designed engines may have been the cause. Elon Musk, CEO of Space a rival of Orbital Sciences Corporation, said in a Wired interview that the refurbished Russian NK-33 engine “were made in the ‘60s … and packed away in Siberia somewhere.” Two engines of the same design have failed previously in the testing phase of the Antares rocket. The Atlas 5, a rocket used by the U.S. military, is also equipped with a Russian engine.