The Antares rocket, which is operated by Orbital Sciences, went up in flames just six seconds after launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. The rocket was carrying a Cygnus spacecraft that was supposed to deliver supplies to the International Space Station on a routine mission. One-third of that cargo was made up of science experiments.
The cause of the explosion is still under investigation, according to NASA officials. However, the Orbital Sciences team wasn’t tracking any issues prior to launch. The private space company did confirm, however, that the explosion was due to a “vehicle anomaly.”
This launch was part of Orbital Sciences’ $1.9 billion contract with NASA to deliver cargo to the ISS through 2016. The Cygnus spacecraft was loaded with 5,000 pounds of cargo that included science experiments, food, clothing and other equipment for the astronauts on the ISS. It was set to rendezvous with the space station on Nov. 2.
It was scheduled to be parked at the ISS for five weeks. Astronauts would have then loaded trash onto the Cygnus to be burned up in Earth’s atmosphere.
Planet Labs, an Earth imaging startup that had 26 satellites on board, said simply, “Space is hard.”
“While this will not have a huge impact on … Planet Labs, space is hard and our hearts go out to our fellow space innovators,” the company wrote in a statement.
The explosion sent a fireball into the darkness on a night when space buffs all along the eastern seaboard of the U.S. had hoped to catch a glimpse of the rocket blasting into space.