Rocket Explodes With NASA Experiments on Board


Update: NASA said at a press conference this morning that launch officials were forced to destroy the rocket less than 30 seconds after it’s 5:10 a.m. launch. The rocket had veered off-course, although they couldn’t say how far, and they had to terminate the flight at about 12,000 feet.

A suborbital rocket carrying experiments conducted by NASA exploded early Friday morning 27 seconds after launch on Wallops Island in Virginia. The ATK (Alliant Tech Systems) rocket lifted off with no apparent problems at 5:10 a.m. NASA said no property damage or injuries have occurred, but there were conflicting reports as to whether debris had been sighted on land. NASA said it believes that most of the debris landed in the Atlantic Ocean.

NASA said the debris potentially could be hazardous. People who spot debris are being asked to call Wallops Emergency Operations Center at 757-824-1300.

“NASA is very disappointed in this failure but has directed its focus on protecting public safety and conducting a comprehensive investigation to identify the root cause,” the agency said in a statement. NASA is assembling a multidiscipline team, along with ATK of Salt Lake City, Utah to begin the investigation promptly.

The payload was a 5-in-1 experiment on hypersonic flight, air breathing engines and a rocket recovery system.

Source: NASA

15 Replies to “Rocket Explodes With NASA Experiments on Board”

  1. Well, it doesn’t help when NASA chooses onboard experiments like “Nitroglycerin Behavior in a Unstable Environment” and the “Upper Atmosphere McGruver Research Platform.”

  2. Will NASA label this a “technology failure,” or a “test technique failure?” The tension mounts as all eyes turn to NASA for answers. Meanwhile, in a dimly lit room on Wallops Island, a heated debate over the terms quickly unraveled as one rookie-scientist hollered, “food fight!” Moments later, tourists looking for wild ponies in nearby Assateague Island were shocked to see the screaming NASA enclave running through the streets adorned in togas. The rowdy group insisted they were simply following standard NASA protocol and launching their prompt investigation into the mishap. They were last seen fighting the breakers at the Atlantic shoreline, shouting about test technique failures. The commotion threatened to trigger a wild pony stampede at the public beach.

  3. Hmm . . . can’t help wonder how many of our life-time tax dollars were wasted. Good job NASA! Gawd! I hope the next administration appoints some common sense leadership to manage NASA.

  4. After 50 years or more of rocket designing, a tax paying observer would think the probability of a rocket failure to be zero. Why is NASA messing with new designs when there are more then adequate launch vehicles in NASA’s inventory with proven reliability that could have easily and successfully carried the 5 in 1 experiment package? Hmm . . . maybe this new ATK rocket is a “pork barrel” project. Something is wrong with NASA’s thinking.

  5. An administration that will magically prevent experimental rockets from blowing up?
    …Or an administration that will avoid testing out of the fear something could go wrong?

    Either one does not sound appealing.

    The reality is that a politician cannot do much about this situation other than to give out more funding in the hopes of securing the qualified personnel.
    I think both campaigns at this time are more worried over the appearance of losing the space program than the actual goings on inside of it.

  6. wasted tax dollars? don’t make me laugh, you should be grateful this was a small scale test and not a full untested industrial scale design put into use without proper concept testing.

    With your logic spending money at the theaters to “test” out a movie would also be a complete waste.
    Paraphrased: “Good job NASA!”

  7. Maxwell, You are mostly right. But, wouldn’t you think it would make more sense focusing on improving the reliability of what NASA already has access to? Maybe the NASA think tank is working on the wrong problems.

  8. The gearheads are still messing with alternative designs because of one truth:
    Rockets suck.

    Rockets are temperamental, difficult to maintain, expensive, hard to control, and above all else they explode on a whim. You don’t hold hot materials under high under pressure or blast liquid gas around a complicated tube system without inheriting some extreme risk of it all going to pot because of a loose screw.
    This crap isn’t going to get us around the solar system as a species. It simply wont. I don’t see some redneck taking a wrench to a bell nozzled monstrosity and having anything good happen.

    Rockets suck. Its an inescapable fact.

    So to either come up with something new or make a rocket thats much more reliable and less costly, we do tests… but because rockets suck, we are still doing tests and will be doing tests for the foreseeable future.

    I for one am glad that at least someone is still working on the problem.

  9. I see your point. After 50 years of booster experience, it just feels like we should be doing a bit better with systems reliability.

  10. Nasa has been doing its best to improve safety.
    ATK is, Nasas booster maker and, to their credit, its not the engine that failed. But theres no changing the fact its a dangerous system.

    A ground up redesign of the rocket is unlikely to come from inside NASA since they already have commitments to conduct spaceflights with ships that are only half built.
    They wont stop the works for a new engine now.

    Theres a slim hope for a new form of first stage propulsion if outside companies keep doing tests on alternatives… which might look like pork, but its what we’ve got.

    The only way to gain experience is to fly rockets. Some of them are going to go bad for unexpected reasons and theres no way to get around it unless we find an alternative.

  11. Jerry, The story line would have been more complete if Nancy Atkinson included your detail in her original report.

  12. This was an experimental low cost rocket design, with emphesis on low cost. ATK designed and foot the bill the rocket, NASA the payload. The failure was at a curious time, given that everything looks good on the video, but according to the news release, the rocket was outside of the expected corridor.

    Until we know more, this could be anything from guidance, to thrust, to bad telemetry to an ichty finger on the distruct button.

    As far as ‘the big boys’, it is my understanding that this is ATK’s first integrated rocket, that is, they primed (and financed) the entire system (guidance, telemetry, etc; rolls usually assumed by Boeing, Lockheed or Northrop. So it is not so different from the spaceX and other low- cost ventures. Very disappointing, all the same.

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