PRESS SITE VIDEO: Antares Explodes Seconds After Taking Flight to Space Station

Antares exploding just seconds after liftoff Monday evening on Wallops Island, VA. Photo Credit: Alex Polimeni / AmericaSpace
Antares exploding just seconds after liftoff Monday evening on Wallops Island, Va. Photo Credit: Alex Polimeni / AmericaSpace

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.


Want to keep up-to-date with all things space? Be sure to “Like” AmericaSpace on Facebook and follow us on Twitter: @AmericaSpace

Missions » ISS » COTS » CYGNUS »


  1. While there is much speculation that the Russian-built/Aerojet-refurbished engines are the cause of the accident, unfortunately simply replacing them is not going to be easy. It has taken decades of bad government policy and corporate mergers for the US to get into its current situation and, while there have been promising signs with new domestic engine developments in recent years, it will take a while for us to get out of it.

  2. Ok so on the bright side considering we had an engine blowup on the stand a while back plus this tells me that there should be enough data from the two events to determine the cause of this expensive but harmless event…Certainly a reminder as to the forces involved in these spacecrafts…Furthermore I believe that had this been a manned capsule, the crew escape system would have been activated and pulled the crew away from the explosion without incident ….Right?

    • Speculation as to the cause of the incident is premature.

      It would be best to await information from an investigation, before trying to draw any conclusions.

      • Joe,
        “Furthermore I believe that had this been a manned capsule, the crew escape system would have been activated and pulled the crew away from the explosion without incident ….Right?”

        Do I have this right?

        • I wish it were that simple, but (wouldn’t you know it) the answer is more complicated.

          Escape systems (the few that exist) are generally designed for a 90% success goal. That means that if you are in a position to have to use one you would have 9 in 10 chances of surviving.

          Additionally the ride is not a pleasant one. Such a system has only been used once (on a Soyuz vehicle). The crew survived and went on to fly again, but spent some time recovering from injuries caused by use of the escape system

          Think of it as that gun that some people keep next to their bed. You are glad to have it available, but you really hope to never have to use it.

          • Are you trying to be obtuse just for the kick of it? He was asking as simple questions – And the answer is obviously YES, of course an escape system would have been activated in such a scenario. A 90% chance to live is better than 0%, as your rocket falls back to the pad.

            • The question included “crew escape system would have been activated and pulled the crew away from the explosion without incident”.

              A 90% chance of survival with the strong probability of injuries is not “without incident”.

              Other than those minor details, yes Lars, I was just trying to be obtuse.

              Have a nice evening.

              • Joe,
                I understood the context of your statement in that like an auto accident the passengers may be injured from the seat belts which may save their life but cause brusing…. I do suppose though it is like getting shot out of a cannon…No?

                • You are on the right track

                  An escape system is something you want to have, but hope to never have to use.

  3. Spaceflight is hard and dangerous. No matter how much we think we can make it safe, there will always be disaster. Cars and aircraft crash all the time, yet are considered safe modes of travel. Spaceflight will be no different. Remember this is where humans are attempting to control an explosion for 9 min. to orbit. No easy feat!

  4. I now wonder if they are going to restrict how close one can get to the launch pad. I was at the Antares launch before this one and could not believe they allow you to stand 1.6 miles from the pad. I believe this is as close as anyone who is not a technician can get to any pad in the world. It is very close indeed.

  5. Well after a couple of days we hear that the self destruct button was pushed after reduced propulsion was observed rather than the explosion caused by a engine blowing up…So it could be something completely unrelated to the engine…On the other hand isn’t this expected with a new rocket system configuration…Doesn’t all new systems go through a failure period within their first 5 to 10 launches?

    • Well, that was once the case but not necessarily in the last two decades. For example, neither Atlas V not Delta IV have gone boom. And one hopes, given its size, that SLS never blows up.

Wallops Personnel Safe After ‘Catastrophic’ Failure of ORB-3 Launch

Investigators Complete Initial Assessment in Aftermath of Antares Explosion