Wednesday, October 29, 2014 12:09 am
An unmanned rocket owned by Orbital Sciences Corporation exploded Tuesday six seconds after launch on what was to be a resupply mission to the International Space Station, NASA said.
“The Antares rocket suffered an accident shortly after lift-off,” NASA mission control in Houston said, describing the event as a “catastrophic anomaly.”
The rocket blasted into the air before exploding into a massive orange fireball, vivid against the night sky, and smashing back into the ground.
Fires were seen burning at the coastal launch pad after the Antares rocket blasted off at sunset from Wallops Island, Virginia at 6:22 pm (2222 GMT).
It was unclear what caused the explosion.
“At this point it appears that the damage is limited to the facility,” a commentator on NASA television said.
All personnel in the area were accounted for, and there were no injuries, the US space agency said.
There was, however significant property damage.
NASA mission control said the accident occurred just after Orbital’s unmanned Cygnus cargo ship blasted off toward ISS carrying 5,000 pounds (2,200 kilograms) of supplies for the six astronauts living at the research outpost.
It was the first nighttime launch of an Antares rocket, Orbital said.
The mission, known as CRS-3, was to be Orbital’s fourth trip to the ISS, including an initial demonstration.
Orbital has a $1.9 billion contract with NASA for a total of eight supply missions.
The Cygnus craft, which is shaped like a massive beer keg, was to have remained berthed at the ISS for about five weeks.
After the US space shuttle program ended in 2011, leaving no government program to send humans to the space station, private companies raced to restore US access.
SpaceX’s Dragon was the first commercial spacecraft to make a supply journey there in 2010.