This evening everything seemed perfect for Orbital Sciences Corporation to launch their Antares rocket to deliver the Cygnus cargo resupply ship to the International Space Station; the weather was 100 percent GO, the range was green, and the skies were clear, but an anomaly occurred just seconds after liftoff, causing a catastrophic explosion of the Antares booster above the launch pad.
As outlined by Ben Evans in our post-launch report, within six seconds of leaving the pad the booster burst into flames, showering burning debris across the launch site. According to AmericaSpace’s Launch Tracker, the pitch and roll program maneuver had taken place and the anomaly occurred just a few hundred yards from the pad. Within minutes, the announcement came from officials at MARS that there was “no indication that personnel are in danger, although significant property damage and significant vehicle damage.”
The above video was captured from the media viewing site by our friend and colleague Matthew Travis with Zero-G News and ARES Institute, as close as just about anyone to the event. Matt and our other colleagues were immediately evacuated to a safe distance, with no injuries having been reported.
Although ORB-3 was an unmanned mission, unpleasant reminders of the STS-107 disaster were kindled in the clipped exchanges between flight controllers, who were directed to secure their checklists and their handheld notes and to begin the process of locking down all pertinent data which might support the impending investigation. Anything transmitted via their computers will also be scrubbed in the coming hours and days. The presence of classified crypto equipment aboard the ORB-3 Cygnus spacecraft required the area surrounding Pad 0A to be secured, not only as part of the accident investigation, but also in support of security needs. An interim accident investigation team was formed, encompassing representatives of NASA, Orbital, MARS, and launch team personnel, and will be headed by Richard Straka, the Senior Vice President of Orbital’s Launch Systems Group.
Check back regularly for updates.
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