Antares rocket on ISS supply mission explodes on launch

An unmanned Orbital Science’s, Antares, cargo rocket carrying a NASA payload to the International Space station has exploded at launch. An earlier launch attempt a day earlier had been scrubbed because a boat wandered into the launch area at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Antares Rocket Explodes During Launch on Oct. 28, 2014

An Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes shortly after lifting off on a private cargo mission toward the International Space Station on Oct .28, 2014 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: NASA TV

Orbital also supports human space flight by supplying commercial cargo resupply services for the International Space Station using our new Antares® rocket and Cygnus™ cargo logistics spacecraft.  In addition, Orbital provides full service engineering, production and technical services for NASA, DoD, commercial and academic space programs.

Designed to provide responsive, low-cost, and reliable access to space, Antares is a two-stage vehicle (with optional third stage) that provides low-Earth orbit (LEO) launch capability for payloads weighing over 5,000 kg. Internally funded by Orbital, Antares completed a risk reduction mission and a demonstration of commercial re-supply services for the International Space Station (ISS) under a NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreement in 2013. Antares currently is under contract for eight Commercial Resupply Missions (CRS) to deliver cargo to the International Space Station, the first of which was completed in early 2014

The previous 4 launches of the Antares have been successful. The business of operating private launch vehicles is still a risky and expensive business. Orbital Science’s contract with NASA in 2008 was for NASA to provide $171 million in addition to the $150 million to be funded by Orbital. As of December 2013 costs expended had reached $530 million with $288 million coming from NASA. Orbital is quoted on the NYSE and in 2013 had revenues of $1.36 billion with a net income of $68 million (c. 5%). They report an operating margin of 8.3% so development costs are a little over 3% of revenues.

A private Orbital Sciences-built cargo launch to the International Space Station ended in a fiery explosion just seconds after liftoff Tuesday night (Oct. 28).

Orbital’s unmanned Antares rocket exploded in a brilliant fireball shortly after launching from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 6:22 p.m. EDT (2222 GMT), crashing back down to the launch pad in a flaming heap. The Antares was carrying Orbital’s unmanned Cygnus spacecraft, which was toting 5,000 pounds (2,268 kilograms) of food, scientific experiments and other supplies on this flight — the third cargo mission to the space station under a $1.9 billion contract the company holds with NASA.

Antares visibility map

Antares first nighttime launch from Wallops Flight Facility planned for October 27th – Visibility area — image NASA


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