Busy Year of 13 Launches by ULA in 2015 Begins with Blastoffs for the Navy and NASA

A busy year of 13 space launches by rocket provider United Launch Alliance (ULA) in 2015 begins with a pair of blastoffs for the US Navy and NASA tonight and next week, emanating from both the US East and West Coasts.

The hefty manifest of 13 liftoffs in 2015 comes hot on the heels of ULA’s banner year in 2014 whereby they completed every one of the firm’s 14 planned launches in 2014 with a 100% success rate.

“What ULA has accomplished in 2014, in support of our customers’ missions, is nothing short of remarkable,” said ULA CEO Tory Bruno.

“When you think about every detail – all of the science, all of the planning, all of the resources – that goes into a single launch, it is hard to believe that we successfully did it at a rate of about once a month, sometimes twice.”

ULA’s stable of launchers includes the Delta II, Delta IV and the Atlas V. They are in direct competition with the Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX founded by billionaire Elon Musk.

And ULA’s 2015 launch calendar begins tonight with a milestone launch for the US Navy that also marks the 200th launch overall of the venerable Atlas-Centaur rocket that has a renowned history dating back some 52 years to 1962 with multiple variations.

And tonight’s blastoff of the Multi-User Objective System (MUOS-3) satellite for the US Navy involves using the most powerful variant of the rocket, known as the Atlas V 551.

Liftoff of MUOS-3 is set for 7:43 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch window extends for 44 minutes and the weather outlook is very favorable. It will be carried live on a ULA webcast.

MUOS-3 Navy communications satellite and Atlas V rocket at pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL for launch on Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: ULA
MUOS-3 Navy communications satellite and Atlas V rocket at pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL for launch on Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: ULA

The second ULA launch of 2015 comes just over 1 week later on January 29, lofting NASA’s SMAP Earth observation satellite on a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

MUOS is a next-generation narrowband tactical satellite communications system designed to significantly improve ground communications for U.S. forces on the move, according to ULA.

This is the third satellite in the MUOS series and will provide military users 10 times more communications capability over existing systems, including simultaneous voice, video and data, leveraging 3G mobile communications technology.

ULA’s second launch in 2015 thunders aloft from the US West Coast with NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive mission (SMAP). It is the first US Earth-observing satellite designed to collect global observations of surface soil moisture.

SMAP will blastoff from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg AFB at 9:20 a.m. EST (6:20 a.m. PST) on ULA’s Delta II rocket.

NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive mission (SMAP) will lift off from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 9:20 a.m. EST (6:20 a.m. PST) on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket.   Credit:  NASA
NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive mission (SMAP) will lift off from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 9:20 a.m. EST (6:20 a.m. PST) on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket. Credit: NASA

“It goes without saying: ULA had a banner year,” Bruno said. “As we look ahead to 2015, we could not be more honored to continue supporting our nation in one of the most technologically complex, critical American needs: affordable, reliable access to space.”

ULA began operations in December 2006 with the merger of the expendable launch vehicle operations of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

ULA’s Delta IV Heavy is currently the world’s most powerful rocket and flawlessly launched NASA’s Orion capsule on Dec. 5, 2014 on its highly successful uncrewed maiden test flight on the EFT-1 mission.

Overall, the 14-mission launch manifest in 2014 included 9 national security space missions, 3 space exploration missions, including NASA’s Orion EFT-1 and 2 commercial missions.

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Beyond MUOS-3 and SMAP, the launch manifest on tap for 2015 also includes additional NASA science satellites, an ISS commercial cargo resupply mission as well as more GPS satellites for military and civilian uses and top secret national security launches using the Delta II, Delta IV and the Atlas V boosters.

NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS) to study Earth’s magnetic reconnection is scheduled for launch on an Atlas V 421 booster on March 12 from Cape Canaveral. See my up close visit with MMS and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center detailed in my story – here.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden poses with the agency’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft, mission personnel, Goddard Center Director Chris Scolese and NASA Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld, during visit to the cleanroom at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden poses with the agency’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft, mission personnel, Goddard Center Director Chris Scolese and NASA Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld, during visit to the cleanroom at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

In March, June and September the GPS 2F-9, 2F-10 and 2F-11 navigation satellites will launch on Delta IV and Atlas V rockets from Cape Canaveral.

Two top secret NRO satellites are set to launch on a Delta IV and Atlas in April and August from Vandenberg.

An Air Force Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) space plane may launch as soon as May atop an Atlas V from Cape Canaveral.

The MUOS-4 liftoff is set for August on another Atlas from the Cape.

The Morelos 3 communications satellite for the Mexican Ministry of Communications and Transportation is due to launch in October from the Cape.

In November, the Atlas V will be pressed into service for the first time to launch the Orbital Sciences Cygnus Orb-4 cargo vehicle to the International Space Station (ISS) as a replacement rocket for the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket which is grounded following its catastrophic Oct. 28 explosion on the Orb-3 mission from NASA Wallops.

This Cygnus launched atop Antares on Jan. 9 and docked on Jan. 12   Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during exclusive visit by  Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. ISS astronauts will open this hatch to unload 2780 pounds of cargo.  Docking mechanism hooks and latches to ISS at left. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
This Cygnus launched atop Antares on Jan. 9, 2014. The next Cygnus Orb-4 will launch for the first time atop an Atlas V in Nov. 2015. Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. ISS astronauts will open this hatch to unload 2780 pounds of cargo. Docking mechanism hooks and latches to ISS at left. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The Orb-4 launch also marks ULA’s first launch to the ISS. It may be followed by another Cygnus launch atop an Atlas V in 2016 as Orbital works to bring the Antares back into service.

Antares doomed descent to incendiary destruction after first stage propulsion system of Orbital Sciences’ rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Antares doomed descent to incendiary destruction after first stage propulsion system of Orbital Sciences’ rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

In another major milestone down the road, the Atlas V is being man rated since it was chosen to launch the Boeing CST-100 space taxi which NASA selected as one of two new commercial crew vehicles to launch US astronauts to the ISS as soon as 2017.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Dragon Captured at Station Loaded with Critical Supplies and Science

The commercial SpaceX cargo Dragon, loaded with over 2.6 tons of critically needed supplies and science experiments, was captured by the crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) this morning (Jan. 12) while soaring over the Mediterranean Sea.

The SpaceX Dragon CRS-5 cargo vessel arrived at the station following a flawless two day orbital pursuit and spectacular nighttime blastoff atop the SpaceX Falcon 9 on Jan. 10 at 4:47 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Note: This breaking news story is being updated. Check back frequently for updates.

Dragon was successfully berthed and bolted into place a few hours later at 8:54 a.m. EST.

Working at the robotics work station inside the seven windowed domed cupola, Expedition 42 Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore of NASA, with the assistance of Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency, successfully captured the Dragon spacecraft with the station’s Canadian-built robotic arm at 5:54 a.m. EST.

Wilmore grappled Dragon with the station’s 57-foot-long (17-meter-long) robotic arm at 5:54 a.m. EST, about 18 minutes ahead of schedule, in an operation shown live on NASA TV, back-dropped by breathtaking views of “our beautiful Earth” passing by some 260 miles (410 kilometers) below.

Among the goodies aboard are belated Christmas presents for the crew. The Falcon 9 and Dragon were originally scheduled to liftoff in December and arrive in time for the Christmas festivities.

The cargo freighter flew beneath the station to arrive at the capture point 32 feet (10 meters) away. Dragon’s thrusters were disabled at the time of grappling.

Robotics officers at Houston Mission Control then began remotely maneuvering the arm to berth Dragon at the Earth-facing port on the station’s Harmony module starting at 7:45 a.m. EST.

Dragon is being attached via the common berthing mechanism (CBM) using four gangs of four bolts apiece to accomplish a hard mate to Harmony. The overall grappling and berthing process requires a few hours.

Dragon was successfully berthed and bolted into place at 8:54 a.m. EST and its now part of the space station.

The crew will conduct leak pressure checks, remove the docking mechanism and open the hatch later today or tomorrow.

#Dragon is about 90 feet from #ISS, closing in on its capture point.  Credit: NASA TV
#Dragon is about 90 feet from #ISS, closing in on its capture point. Credit: NASA TV

CRS-5 marks the company’s fifth operational resupply mission to the ISS under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the station during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016 under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Overall this is the sixth Dragon to arrive at the ISS.

The ISS cannot function without regular deliveries of fresh cargo by station partners from Earth.

The Dragon CRS-5 spacecraft is loaded with over 5108 pounds (2317 kg) of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, crew supplies, spare parts, food, water, clothing, and assorted research gear for the six person crew serving aboard the ISS.

Among the payloads is the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS), a remote-sensing laser instrument to measure clouds and the location and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, and other particulates and aerosols in the atmosphere that directly impact the global climate.

CATS is loaded aboard the unpressurized trunk of Dragon.

Also loaded onboard are 17 student experiments known collectively as the “Yankee Clipper” mission. The experiments are sponsored by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, which oversees the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) in partnership with NanoRacks LLC.

The launch marked the first US commercial resupply launch since the catastrophic destruction of an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and Cygnus Orb-3 spacecraft bound for the ISS which exploded unexpectedly after launch from NASA Wallops, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014.

The US supply train to the ISS is now wholly dependent on SpaceX until Cygnus flights are resumed, hopefully by late 2015, on an alternate rocket, the Atlas V.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, carrying the Dragon resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station.   Credit: John Studwell/AmericaSpace
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, carrying the Dragon resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station. Credit: John Studwell/AmericaSpace

Dragon will remain attached to the ISS for about four weeks until Feb. 10.

SpaceX also had a secondary objective of recovering the Falcon 9 booster’s first stage via an unprecedented precision guided landing on an ocean-going “drone.”

The history making attempt at recovering the Falcon 9 first stage was a first of its kind experiment to accomplish a pinpoint soft landing of a rocket onto a tiny platform in the middle of a vast ocean using a rocket assisted descent.

In my opinion the experiment was “a very good first step towards the bold company goal of recovery and re-usability in the future” as I wrote in my post launch report here at Universe Today.

Listen to my live radio interview with BBC 5LIVE conducted Saturday night, discussing SpaceX’s first attempt to land and return their Falcon-9 booster.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The SpaceX Dragon is attached to the Harmony module. Credit: NASA TV
The SpaceX Dragon is attached to the Harmony module. Credit: NASA TV

SpaceX and NASA On Track For Spectacular Predawn Jan. 6 Launch of Critical Cargo Mission to ISS

SpaceX is on track to rollout their Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon cargo freighter this evening, Monday, Jan, 5, 2015 to launch pad 40 on a mission bound for the International Space Station (ISS) to deliver critical supplies.

The Dragon CRS-5 mission is slated to blast off at 6:20 a.m. EST, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, atop the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The predawn launch should put on a spectacular sky show for spectators along the Florida space coast.

There is only an instantaneous launch window available, meaning that the blastoff must proceed at that exact instant. Any delays due to technical issues or weather would force a scrub until at least Friday, Jan. 9.

SpaceX Falcon 9 ready for rollout to launch pad for Dragon CRS-5 mission.  Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 ready for rollout to launch pad for Dragon CRS-5 mission. Credit: SpaceX

The launch has already been postponed several times, most recently from Dec. 19, 2014 when a static fire test of the first stage engines on Dec. 17 shut down prematurely.

A second static fire test of the SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully went the full duration of approximately 3 seconds and cleared the path for a liftoff attempt after the Christmas holidays.

The delay allowed the teams to recoup and recover and enjoy the festive holiday season.

“It was a good decision to postpone the launch until after the holidays,” said Hans Koenigsmann, VP of Mission Assurance, SpaceX, at a media briefing today at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

Following the catastrophic failure of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo freighter on Oct. 28 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, officials have been prudently cautious to ensure that all measures were carefully rechecked to maximize the possibilities of a launch success.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket completes successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead od planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit:  SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket completes successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead od planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit: SpaceX

CRS-5 marks the company’s fifth resupply mission to the ISS under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the station during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016 under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract

The weather odds have improved to 70% GO from 60% GO reported Major Perry Sweat, 45th Weather Squadron rep, USAF, at the briefing today at the Kennedy Space Center.

A frontal boundary has settled in over Central Florida. This front and its associated cloudiness will be very slow to move south of the Space Coast. With the clouds only slowly eroding overhead, the primary weather concern remains thick clouds, according to Sweat.

The unmanned cargo freighter is loaded with more than 5108 pounds (2317 kg) of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, crew supplies, spare parts, food, water, clothing and assorted research gear for the space station.

The Dragon research experiments will support over 256 science and research investigations for the six person space station crews on Expeditions 42 and 43.

Among the payloads is the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS), a remote-sensing laser instrument to measure clouds and the location and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, and other particulates and aerosols in the atmosphere.

Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore on the International Space Station shared this beautiful image of #sunrise earlier today, 1/3/15.  Credit: NASA/Barry ‘Butch’ Wilmore
Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore on the International Space Station shared this beautiful image of #sunrise earlier today, 1/3/15. Credit: NASA/Barry ‘Butch’ Wilmore

Assuming all goes well, Dragon will rendezvous at the ISS on Thursday, Jan. 8, for grappling and berthing by the ISS astronauts maneuvering the 57 foot-long (17 meter-long) Canadian built robotic arm.

The SpaceX CRS-5 launch is the first cargo launch to the ISS since the doomed Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus launch ended in catastrophe on Oct. 28.

With Antares launches on indefinite hold, the US supply train to the ISS is now wholly dependent on SpaceX.

Orbital Sciences has now contracted United Launch Alliance
(ULA) to launch the firms Cygnus cargo freighter to the ISS by late 2015 on an Atlas V rocket.

A secondary objective of SpaceX is to attempt to recover the Falcon 9 first stage on an off shore barge.

NASA Television live launch coverage begins at 5 a.m. EST on Jan. 6.

 SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set to soar to ISS after completing  successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead of planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set to soar to ISS after completing successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead of replanned CRS-5 mission for NASA launching on Jan. 6, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

New countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center displays SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-5 mission and recent Orion ocean recovery at the Press Site viewing area on Dec. 18, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
New countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center displays SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-5 mission and recent Orion ocean recovery at the Press Site viewing area on Dec. 18, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

NASA and SpaceX targeting Dec. 19 for next Space Station Launch

NASA and SpaceX are now targeting Dec. 19 as the launch date for the next unmanned cargo run to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.

The fifth SpaceX cargo mission was postponed from Dec. 16 to Dec. 19 to “allow SpaceX to take extra time to ensure they do everything possible on the ground to prepare for a successful launch,” according to a statement from NASA.

The Dragon spacecraft will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Both the Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon spacecraft are in good health, according to NASA.

The mission dubbed SpaceX CRS-5 is slated for liftoff at 1:20 p.m.

An on time liftoff will result in a rendezvous with the ISS on Sunday. The crew would grapple the Dragon with the stations 57 foot long robotic arm at about 6 a.m.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule is snared by the International Space Station's Canadarm 2. Credit: NASA
The SpaceX Dragon capsule is snared by the International Space Station’s Canadarm 2. Credit: NASA

US astronaut and station commander Barry Wilmore will operate the Canadarm2 to capture the SpaceX Dragon when it arrives Sunday morning. ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will assist Wilmore working at a robotics workstation inside the domed Cupola module during the commercial craft’s approach and rendezvous.

The unmanned cargo freighter is loaded with more than 3,700 pounds of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, crew supplies, spare parts, food, water, clothing and assorted research gear.

The Dragon research experiments will support over 256 science and research investigations for the six person space station crews on Expeditions 42 and 43.

Among the payloads is the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS), a remote-sensing laser instrument to measure clouds and the location and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, and other particulates and aerosols in the atmosphere.

A secondary objective of SpaceX is to attempt to recover the Falcon 9 first stage on an off shore barge.

The SpaceX CRS-4 mission to the ISS concluded with a successful splashdown on Oct 25 after a month long stay.

The SpaceX CRS-5 launch is the first cargo launch to the ISS since the doomed Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus launch ended in catastrophe on Oct. 28.

With Antares launches on indefinite hold, the US supply train to the ISS is now wholly dependent on SpaceX.

Orbital Sciences has now contracted United Launch Alliance (ULA) to launch the firms Cygnus cargo freighter to the ISS by late 2015 on an Atlas V rocket.

Orbital Sciences Selects ULA’s Atlas V to Launch Next Cygnus Cargo Ship to Station

A United Launch Alliance Altas V 401 rocket like that shown here will launch the next Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo ship to the space station in place of the Antares rocket. NASA’s Mars-bound MAVEN spacecraft launches atop Atlas V booster at 1:28 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 18, 2013. Image taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
More photos added[/caption]

Following the catastrophic Oct. 28 failure of an Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket on a critical resupply mission to the space station for NASA, the company is seeking to quickly make up the loss to NASA by announcing the selection of the venerable Atlas V rocket built by United Launch Alliance to launch Orbital’s next Cygnus cargo ship to the orbital science lab.

Orbital and ULA signed a contract to launch at least one, and up to two, Cygnus cargo missions to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program.

The first Cygnus mission would liftoff sometime late in the fourth quarter of 2015 aboard an Atlas V 401 vehicle from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Given that ULA’s full launch manifest was fairly full for the next 18 months, Orbital is fortunate to have arranged one or two available launch slots so quickly in the wake of the Antares launch disaster.

“Orbital is pleased to partner with ULA for these important cargo missions to the International Space Station,” said Frank Culbertson, Orbital executive vice president and general manager of its Advanced Programs Group.

“ULA’s ability to integrate and launch missions on relatively short notice demonstrates ULA’s manifest flexibility and responsiveness to customer launch needs.”

Antares doomed descent to incendiary destruction after first stage propulsion system of Orbital Sciences’ rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Antares’ doomed descent to incendiary destruction after the first stage propulsion system of Orbital Sciences’ rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orbital also stated that there will be “no cost increase to the space agency” by utilizing the Atlas V as an interim launcher.

If necessary, a second Cygnus would be launched by the Atlas V in 2016.

The 401 version of the Atlas uses a 4 meter diameter payload fairing, no solid rocket boosters strapped on to the first stage, and a single-engine Centaur upper stage.

This Cygnus launched atop Antares on Jan. 9 and docked on Jan. 12   Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during exclusive visit by  Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. ISS astronauts will open this hatch to unload 2780 pounds of cargo.  Docking mechanism hooks and latches to ISS at left. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
This Cygnus launched atop Antares on Jan. 9 and docked on Jan. 12 Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. ISS astronauts will open this hatch to unload 2780 pounds of cargo. Docking mechanism hooks and latches to ISS at left. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orbital had been evaluating at least three different potential launch providers.

Observers speculated that in addition to ULA, the other possibilities included a SpaceX Falcon 9 or a rocket from the European Space Agency at the Guiana Space Center.

“We could not be more honored that Orbital selected ULA to launch its Cygnus spacecraft,” said Jim Sponnick, vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs.

“This mission was awarded in a highly competitive environment, and we look forward to continuing ULA’s long history of providing reliable, cost-effective launch services for customers.”

The Orbital-3, or Orb-3, mission that ended in disaster on Oct. 28 was to be the third of eight cargo resupply missions to the ISS through 2016 under the NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract award valued at $1.9 Billion.

The highly anticipated launch of the Antares rocket on Oct 28 suddenly went awry when one of the Soviet-era first stage engines unexpectedly exploded and cascaded into a spectacular aerial fireball just above the launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Orb-3 mission to the ISS.

Read my earlier eyewitness accounts at Universe Today.

First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orbital was awarded a $1.9 Billion contract with NASA under the CRS program to deliver 20,000 kilograms of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts, and hardware for the eight ISS flights.

In choosing the Atlas V with a greater lift capacity compared to Antares, Orbital will also be able to significantly increase the cargo mass loaded inside the Cygnus by about 35%.

This may allow Orbital to meet its overall space station payload obligation to NASA in 7 total flights vs. the originally planned 8.

The venerable Atlas V rocket is one of the most reliable and well built rockets in the world.

NASA’s Mars bound MAVEN spacecraft atop Atlas V booster rolls out to Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 16, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The next Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo ship to the space station will launch inside a 4m diameter payload firing, as shown here, on a United Launch Alliance Altas V 401 rocket used for NASA’s MAVEN. NASA’s Mars-bound MAVEN spacecraft atop Atlas V booster rolls out to Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 16, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Indeed the Atlas V has been entrusted to launch many high value missions for NASA and the Defense Department – such as MAVEN, Curiosity, JUNO, TDRSS, and the X-37 B.

MAVEN launched on a similar 401 configuration being planned for Cygnus.

The two-stage Atlas rocket is also being man-rated right now to launch humans to low Earth orbit in the near future.

Orbital is still in the process of deciding on a new first stage propulsion system for Antares’ return to flight planned for perhaps sometime in 2016.

Watch here for Ken’s ongoing reporting about Antares and NASA Wallops.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Orbital Sciences technicians at work on two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today at NASA Wallaps.  These engines powered the successful Antares  liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia bound for the ISS.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Soviet era NK-33 engines refurbished as the AJ26 exactly like pictured here probably caused Antares’ rocket failure on Oct. 28, 2014. Orbital Sciences technicians at work on two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today at NASA Wallaps. These engines powered the successful Antares liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Antares Orb-3 Rocket Explosion and Frightening Incineration Captured by Up Close Launch Pad Videos/Photos: Pt. 2

Video Caption: This up close launch pad camera view is a time lapse sequence of images showing the sudden catastrophic explosion of Orbital Sciences Antares Orb 3 rocket seconds after blastoff and destructive incineration as it plummets into a hellish inferno at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com/Universe Today/AmericaSpace/Zero-G News.
Story and images expanded

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – Moments after a seemingly glorious liftoff on Oct. 28, 2014, the Orbital Sciences Corp. commercial Antares rocket suffered a catastrophic failure as one of the Soviet-era first stage engines exploded and cascaded into a spectacular aerial fireball just above the launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the doomed Orb-3 mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

Although I witnessed and photographed the launch failure from the media viewing area on site at NASA Wallops from a distance of about 1.8 miles away, myself and a small group of space journalists working together from Universe Today, AmericaSpace, and Zero-G News had also placed sound activated cameras directly at the launch pad to capture the most spectacular up close views for what we all expected to be a “nominal” launch. Our imagery had been impounded by accident investigators – until being released to us now.

Now in part 2 of this exclusive series of video and photos our team can show you the terrible fate suffered by Antares after its destructive descent and frightening incineration as it was consumed by a hellish inferno.

My time lapse video above clearly shows the explosion and incendiary descent of Antares into a mammoth fireball.

As I reported in Part 1, all of our team’s cameras and image cards were impounded for nearly a month by Orbital’s official and independent Accident Investigation Board (AIB) that was assembled quickly in the aftermath of the Antares launch failure disaster and charged with determining the root cause of the launch failure.

The videos and photos captured on our image cards were used as evidence and scrutinized by the investigators searching for clues as to the cause and have only just been returned to us in the past few days.

One image clearly shows that the south side engine nozzle of the AJ26 first stage engine was intact and had shut down after the initial explosion and during the plummet. Therefore it was the north side engine that blew up and led to the launch failure. See my up close AJ26 engine photo below.

Video Caption: AmericaSpace and Zero-G News video compilation of four cameras surrounding the launch pad to capture liftoff. The video runs through each at full speed before slowing down to give viewers a slow motion replay of the explosion. One of the cameras was right in the middle of the fireball, with chunks of broken rocket showering down around. CREDITS: Mike Barrett / Jeff Seibert / Matthew Travis / Elliot Severn / Peter Greenwood for www.ZeroGNews.com and www.AmericaSpace.com

Similar launch pad photos taken by NASA and Orbital Sciences cameras have not been publicly released and may not be released for some time to come.

The videos and images collected here are the work of my colleagues Matthew Travis, Elliot Severn, Alex Polimeni, Charles Twine, Jeff Seibert, Mike Barrett, and myself, and show exquisite, heretofore unreleased, views of the explosion, fireball, and wreckage from various positions all around the launch pad.

Our remote cameras were placed all around the Antares pad OA at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, VA, and somehow miraculously survived the rocket’s destruction as it plunged to the ground very near and just north of the seaside launch pad.

A turbopump failure in one of the rocket’s Soviet-era first stage engines has been identified as the most likely cause of the Antares’ destruction according to official statements from David Thompson, Orbital’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.

The AJ26 engines were originally manufactured some 40 years ago in the then Soviet Union as the NK-33.

They were refurbished and “Americanized” by Aerojet Rocketdyne.

“While still preliminary and subject to change, current evidence strongly suggests that one of the two AJ26 main engines that powered Antares’ first stage failed about 15 seconds after ignition. At this time, we believe the failure likely originated in, or directly affected, the turbopump machinery of this engine, but I want to stress that more analysis will be required to confirm that this finding is correct,” said Thompson.

Antares loses thrust after rocket explosion and begins falling back  after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Antares loses thrust after rocket explosion and begins falling back after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Close up view of Antares descent into hellish inferno shows south side first stage engine intact after north side engine at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Close up view of Antares’ descent into a hellish inferno shows the south side first stage engine intact after the north side engine at the base of Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Overall this was the 5th Antares launch using the AJ26 engines.

Antares was carrying Orbital’s privately developed Cygnus pressurized cargo freighter loaded with nearly 5000 pounds (2200 kg) of science experiments, research instruments, crew provisions, spare parts, spacewalk and computer equipment and gear on a critical resupply mission dubbed Orb-3 bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

Antares doomed descent to incendiary destruction after first stage propulsion system of Orbital Sciences’ rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Antares doomed descent to incendiary destruction after first stage propulsion system of Orbital Sciences’ rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

IMG_1127_3a_Antares Orb 3_Ken Kremer

It was the heaviest cargo load yet lofted by a Cygnus. Some 800 pounds additional cargo was loaded on board compared to earlier flights. That was enabled by using the more powerful ATK CASTOR 30XL engine to power the second stage for the first time.

The astronauts and cosmonauts depend on a regular supply train from the ISS partners to kept it afloat and productive on a 24/7 basis.

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The Orbital-3, or Orb-3, mission was to be the third of eight cargo resupply missions to the ISS through 2016 under the NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract award valued at $1.9 Billion.

Orbital Sciences is under contract to deliver 20,000 kilograms of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts, and hardware for the eight ISS flights.

Examine the video and photo gallery herein.

Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes into a fireball seconds after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014 at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes into a fireball seconds after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Watch here for Ken’s ongoing reporting about Antares and NASA Wallops.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Pre-launch seaside panorama of Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket at the NASA's Wallops Flight Facility launch pad on Oct 26 - 2 days before the ??Orb-3? launch failure on Oct 28, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Pre-launch seaside panorama of Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket at the NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility launch pad on Oct 26 – 2 days before the Orb-3 launch failure on Oct 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Orbital Sciences technicians at work on two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today at NASA Wallaps.  These engines powered the successful Antares  liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia bound for the ISS.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Soviet era NK-33 engines refurbished as the AJ26 exactly like pictured here probably caused Antares’ rocket failure on Oct. 28, 2014. Orbital Sciences technicians at work on two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today at NASA Wallaps. These engines powered the successful Antares liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Remote cameras set up around launch pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia captured incredible up-close views of an Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket exploding seconds after liftoff several weeks ago. The mission was to deliver the company’s Orb-3 Cygnus spacecraft to deliver supplies and experiments to the orbiting International Space Station. Photo Credits: Elliot Severn / Matthew Travis / Mike Barrett / Jeff Seibert for Zero-G News and AmericaSpace
Remote cameras set up around launch pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia captured incredible up-close views of an Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket exploding seconds after liftoff several weeks ago. The mission was to deliver the company’s Orb-3 Cygnus spacecraft to deliver supplies and experiments to the orbiting International Space Station. Photo Credits: Elliot Severn / Matthew Travis / Mike Barrett / Jeff Seibert for Zero-G News and AmericaSpace
Up Close Launch Pad remote camera photographers during prelaunch setup for Orb-3 mission at NASA Wallops launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com Antares priuor to
Up Close Launch Pad remote camera photographers during prelaunch setup for Orb-3 mission at NASA Wallops launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Antares’ Doomed Descent into Hellish Inferno – Up Close Launch Pad Photo Exclusive: Pt. 1

Up close launch pad camera view as Antares descended into a hellish inferno after the first stage propulsion system at the base of Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. The south side engine nozzle is clearly intact in this image. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Story and photos expanded[/caption]

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – All was calm, the air was crisp with hope, and the skies were clear as far as the eye could see as the clock ticked down to T MINUS Zero for the Oct. 28, 2014, blastoff of an Orbital Sciences commercial Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on a mission of critical importance bound for the International Space Station and stocked with science and life support supplies for the six humans living and working aboard.

Tragically it was not to be – as I reported live from the NASA Wallops press site on that fateful October day. The 133 foot tall rocket’s base exploded violently and unexpectedly just seconds after a beautiful evening liftoff due to the failure of one of the refurbished AJ26 first stage “Americanized” Soviet-era engines built four decades ago.

And now for the first time, I can show you precisely what the terrible incendiary view was like through exclusive, up close launch pad photos and videos from myself and a group of space journalists working together from Universe Today, AmericaSpace, and Zero-G news.

Antares descended into hellish inferno after first stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Antares descended to doom after the first stage propulsion system at the base of Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

I was an eyewitness to the awful devastation suffered by the Antares/Cygnus Orb-3 mission from the press viewing site at NASA Wallops located at a distance of about 1.8 miles away from the launch complex.

Our remote cameras were placed directly adjacent to the Antares pad OA at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, VA, and miraculously survived the rocket’s destruction as it plunged to the ground very near and just north of the seaside launch pad.

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All of our team’s cameras and image cards were impounded by Orbital’s Accident Investigation Board (AIB) that was assembled quickly in the aftermath of the disaster and charged with determining the root cause of the launch failure.

The photos captured on our image cards were used as evidence and scrutinized by the investigators searching for clues as to the cause, and have only just been returned to us in the past two days. Similar NASA and Orbital Sciences photos have not been publicly released.

Collected here in Part 1 is a gallery of images from our combined journalist team of Universe Today, AmericaSpace, and Zero-G news. Part 2 will follow shortly and focus on our up close launch pad videos.

Close up view of Antares descent into hellish inferno shows south side first stage engine intact after north side engine at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Close up view of Antares’ destruction shows the south side first stage engine intact after the north side engine at the base of Orbital Sciences’ rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Antares descended into hellish inferno after first stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Antares descended into a hellish inferno after the first stage propulsion system at the base of Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

My lead image shows Antares’ descent into a hellish inferno. And more below clearly show that the south side engine nozzle was intact after the explosion. Thus it was the north side engine that blew up. See my up close AJ26 engine photo below.

Images from my colleagues Matthew Travis, Elliot Severn, Alex Polimeni, Charles Twine, and Jeff Seibert also show exquisite views of the explosion, fireball, and wreckage from various positions around the launch pad.

Antares descended into hellish inferno after first stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Antares destruction after the first stage propulsion system at the base of Orbital Sciences’ rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

 

Close up view of Antares descent into hellish inferno shows south side first stage engine intact after north side engine at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Close up view of Antares’ destructive fall shows the south side first stage engine intact after the north side engine at the base of Orbital Sciences’ rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Moments after liftoff, the highly anticipated Antares launch suddenly devolved into utter catastrophe and a doomed descent into a hellish inferno of bloodcurdling terror – falling as a flaming incinerating carcass of unspeakable horror that ended in a mammoth deafening explosion as the pitiful wreckage smashed into the ground and blew back upwards as a raging fireball and hurtling debris that was visible across a wide swath of the sky.

The awful scene was seen by hordes of expectant spectators for miles around the Wallops area.

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The disaster’s cause has almost certainly been traced to a turbopump failure in one of the rocket’s Soviet-era first stage engines, according to official statements from David Thompson, Orbital’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.

The AJ26 engines were originally manufactured some 40 years ago in the then Soviet Union as the NK-33.
They were refurbished and “Americanized” by Aerojet Rocketdyne.

“While still preliminary and subject to change, current evidence strongly suggests that one of the two AJ26 main engines that powered Antares first stage failed about 15 seconds after ignition. At this time, we believe the failure likely originated in or directly affected the turbopump machinery of this engine, but I want to stress that more analysis will be required to confirm that this finding is correct,” said Thompson.

Overall this was the 5th Antares launch using the AJ26 engines.

The 14 story Antares rocket is a two stage vehicle.

The liquid fueled first stage is filled with about 550,000 pounds (250,000 kg) of Liquid Oxygen and Refined Petroleum (LOX/RP) and powered by a pair of AJ26 engines that generate a combined 734,000 pounds (3,265kN) of sea level thrust.

The Oct. 28 launch disaster was just the latest in a string of serious problems with the AJ-26/NK-33 engines.

Earlier this year an AJ26 engine failed and exploded during pre launch acceptance testing on a test stand on May 22, 2014 at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

Besides completely destroying the AJ26 engine, the explosion during engine testing also severely damaged the Stennis test stand. It has taken months of hard work to rebuild and restore the test stand and place it back into service.

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Antares was carrying Orbital’s privately developed Cygnus pressurized cargo freighter loaded with nearly 5000 pounds (2200 kg) of science experiments, research instruments, crew provisions, spare parts, spacewalk and computer equipment and gear on a critical resupply mission dubbed Orb-3 bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

It was the heaviest cargo load yet lofted by a Cygnus. Some 800 pounds additional cargo was loaded on board compared to earlier flights. That was enabled by using the more powerful ATK CASTOR 30XL engine to power the second stage for the first time.

Ellio 3
The astronauts and cosmonauts depend on a regular supply train from the ISS partners to kept it afloat and productive on a 24/7 basis.

The Orbital-3, or Orb-3, mission was to be the third of eight cargo resupply missions to the ISS through 2016 under the NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract award valued at $1.9 Billion.

Orbital Sciences is under contract to deliver 20,000 kilograms of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts, and hardware for the eight ISS flights.

Enjoy the photo gallery herein.

And watch for Part 2 shortly with exquisite videos, more photos, and personal reflections from our team.

Antares descended into hellish inferno after first stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Antares descended into a hellish inferno after the first stage propulsion system at the base of Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Antares rocket stand erect, reflecting off the calm waters the night before their first night launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, targeted for Oct. 27 at 6:45 p.m.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Antares rocket stand erect, reflecting off the calm waters the night before the planned first night launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, that ended in tragic failure on Oct. 28. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Watch here for Ken’s ongoing reporting about Antares and NASA Wallops.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes into an aerial fireball seconds after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014 at 6:22 p.m.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes into an aerial fireball seconds after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014 at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Orbital Sciences technicians at work on two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today at NASA Wallaps.  These engines powered the successful Antares  liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia bound for the ISS.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Soviet era NK-33 engines refurbished as the AJ26 exactly like pictured here probably caused Antares’ rocket failure on Oct. 28, 2014. Orbital Sciences technicians at work on two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today at NASA Wallops. These engines powered the successful Antares liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014, at NASA Wallops, Virginia, bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Up Close Launch Pad remote camera photographers during prelaunch setup for Orb-3 mission at NASA Wallops launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Up Close Launch Pad remote camera photographers during prelaunch setup for Orb-3 mission at NASA Wallops launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orbital Sciences Announces Way Forward Plan to Fulfill NASA Space Station Commitments

In the wake of last weeks disastrous failure of the Orbital Sciences commercial Antares rocket seconds after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on a critical resupply mission to the space station, Orbital’s Chairman announced a comprehensive way forward involving a two pronged strategy to quickly fulfill their cargo commitments to NASA as well as upgrade the rockets’ first stage propulsion system.

“Orbital announced comprehensive plans to fulfill its contract commitments under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program as well as to accelerate an upgrade of the Antares medium-class launcher’s main propulsion system, the company said in a statement and discussion by David Thompson, Orbital’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, during an investors conference call.

“Orbital is taking decisive action to fulfill our commitments to NASA in support of safe and productive operations of the Space Station,” said Thompson.

“While last week’s Antares failure was very disappointing to all of us, the company is already implementing a contingency plan to overcome this setback. We intend to move forward safely but also expeditiously to put our CRS cargo program back on track and to accelerate the introduction of our upgraded Antares rocket.”

The Orbital Sciences privately developed Antares rocket was doomed by a sudden mid-air explosion some 15 seconds after liftoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, at 6:22 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, October 28.

A turbopump failure in one of the rockets two Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ26 engines that power the first stage has been identified by Orbital’s Accident Investigation Board (AIB) as the probable cause of the huge explosion that destroyed the booster and its NASA payload in a raging fireball after liftoff.

Orbital Sciences technicians at work on two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today at NASA Wallaps.  These engines powered the successful Antares  liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia bound for the ISS.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Soviet era NK-33 engines refurbished as the AJ26 exactly like pictured here probably caused Antares rocket failure on Oct. 28, 2014. Orbital Sciences technicians at work on two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today at NASA Wallaps. These engines powered the successful Antares liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The AJ26 engines were originally manufactured some 40 years ago in the then Soviet Union as the NK-33. They were refurbished and “Americanized” by Aerojet Rocketdyne.

“While still preliminary and subject to change, current evidence strongly suggests that one of the two AJ26 main engines that powered Antares first stage failed about 15 seconds after ignition. At this time, we believe the failure likely originated in or directly affected the turbopump machinery of this engine, but I want to stress that more analysis will be required to confirm that this finding is correct,” said Thompson.

Overall this was the 5th Antares launch using the AJ26 engines.

AJ26 engine failure was immediately suspected, though by no means certain, based on an inspection of numerous photos and videos from myself and many others that clearly showed a violent explosion emanating from the base of the two stage rocket.

First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The remainder of the first stage and Antares entire upper stage was clearly intact at the moment of the explosion in all the imagery.

Thompson said Orbital is accelerating contingency planning and is looking at several alternate rocket suppliers in the US and Europe to launch Orbital’s Cygnus cargo freighter to the station.

Cygnus has functioned perfectly to date and was designed to launch on other vehicles.

“Orbital will employ the inherent flexibility of our Cygnus cargo spacecraft that permits it to be launched on third party launch vehicles and to accommodate heavier cargo loads as allowed by more capable launchers. This option had already been contemplated in previous contingency plans and product improvement roadmaps and its implementation should be relatively straightforward.”

Thompson furthermore stated that the company would need to launch one or two Cygnus spacecraft on alternate providers and hope to do so during 2015 so as to keep their CRS resupply commitments to NASA on track and with minimal delay.

The next Antares/Cygnus launch from Wallops had been scheduled for no earlier than April 2015.

The April launch had been scheduled to introduce the enhanced, longer Cygnus with the capability to carry a significantly heavier cargo load to the ISS.

This Cygnus launched atop Antares on Jan. 9 and docked on Jan. 12   Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during exclusive visit by  Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. ISS astronauts will open this hatch to unload 2780 pounds of cargo.  Docking mechanism hooks and latches to ISS at left. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
This Cygnus launched atop Antares on Jan. 9 and docked on Jan. 12 Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. ISS astronauts will open this hatch to unload 2780 pounds of cargo. Docking mechanism hooks and latches to ISS at left. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

By employing the enhanced Cygnus, Orbital hopes to fulfill its entire CRS contract cargo up mass commitment to NASA in four flights instead of five by the end of 2016.

“Taking advantage of the spacecraft’s flexibility, we will purchase one or two non-Antares launch vehicles for Cygnus flights in 2015 and possibly in early 2016 and combine them with several upgraded Antares rocket launches of additional Cygnus spacecraft in 2016 to deliver all remaining CRS cargo,” said Thompson.

“By consolidating the cargo of five previously-planned CRS missions into four more capable ones, we believe we can maintain a similar or perhaps even a somewhat better delivery schedule than we were on before last week’s launch failure, completing all current CRS program cargo deliveries by the end of 2016.”

The possible launch providers include a United Launch Alliance Atlas V, a SpaceX Falcon 9 or a rocket from the European Space Agency at the Guiana Space Center.

Orbital had previously announced and managers told Universe Today that the company already had decided on plans to integrate a new first stage engine in a new and upgraded second generation version of Antares.

But no one at Orbital will confirm the identity of the chosen first stage engines.

“We will accelerate the introduction of Antares’ upgraded propulsion system, advancing its initial launch date from the previously planned 2017 into 2016,” said Thompson.

Thompson also said the AJ26 engine are unlikely to be used again without complete assurances.

“Consequently, we will likely discontinue the use of the AJ26 rocket engines that had been used on the first five Antares vehicles unless and until those engines can be conclusively shown to be flight worthy,” Thompson stated.

See my exclusive photos herein showing the AJ26 engines with their original NK-33 stencil, during prelaunch processing and mating to the first stage inside Orbital’s Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at NASA Wallops.

The NK-33 was originally designed and manufactured in the 1960s by the Kuznetsov Design Bureau for the Soviet Union’s planned N1 rocket to propel cosmonauts to the moon during the space race with NASA’s hugely successful Apollo Moon Landing program.

The 14 story Antares rocket is a two stage vehicle.

The liquid fueled first stage is filled with about 550,000 pounds (250,000 kg) of Liquid Oxygen and Refined Petroleum (LOX/RP) and powered by a pair of AJ26 engines that generate a combined 734,000 pounds (3,265kN) of sea level thrust.

The Oct. 28 launch disaster was just the latest in a string of serious problems with the AJ-26/NK-33 engines.

Earlier this year an AJ26 engine failed and exploded during pre launch acceptance testing on a test stand on May 22, 2014 at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

Besides completely destroying the AJ26 engine, the explosion during engine testing also severely damaged the Stennis test stand. It has taken months of hard work to rebuild and restore the test stand and place it back into service.

Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes violently and is consumed in a gigantic aerial fireball seconds after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014 at 6:22 p.m.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes violently and is consumed in a gigantic aerial fireball seconds after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014 at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The doomed mission was bound for the International Space Station (ISS) on a flight to bring up some 5000 pounds of (2200 kg) of science experiments, research instruments, crew provisions, spare parts, spacewalk and computer equipment and gear on a critical resupply mission in the Cygnus resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

The Orbital-3, or Orb-3, mission was to be the third of eight cargo resupply missions to the ISS through 2016 under the NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract award valued at $1.9 Billion.

Orbital Sciences is under contract to deliver 20,000 kilograms of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and hardware for the eight ISS flights.

I was an eyewitness to the awful devastation suffered by the Orb-3 mission from the press viewing site at NASA Wallops located at a distance of about 1.8 miles away from the launch complex.

I was interviewed by NBC News and you can watch the entire story and see my Antares explosion photos featured at NBC Nightly News on Oct. 29 here.

Watch the Antares launch disaster unfold into a raging inferno in this dramatic sequence of my photos shot on site – here.

Check out my raw video of the launch – here.

Read my firsthand account of the disaster as viewed from the press site, with photos – here.

Watch my interview at Universe Today Weekly Space Hangout on Oct 31, 2014 -here.

Watch here for Ken’s onsite reporting direct from NASA Wallops.

Damage is visible to Launch Pad 0A following catastrophic failure of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket moments after liftoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Damage is visible to Launch Pad 0A following catastrophic failure of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket moments after liftoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Antares rocket stand erect, reflecting off the calm waters the night before their first night launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, targeted for Oct. 27 at 6:45 p.m.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Antares rocket stand erect, reflecting off the calm waters the night before their first night launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, targeted for Oct. 28. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Soviet Era Engines Likely Caused Antares Catastrophic Rocket Failure

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – Investigators probing last week’s catastrophic failure of an Antares commercial rocket moments after liftoff, are pointing the finger at the rocket’s Soviet-era built engines as the probable cause of the huge explosion that destroyed the booster and its NASA payload in a raging fireball after liftoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, according to Orbital Sciences managers.

The Orbital Sciences privately developed Antares rocket was doomed by a sudden mid-air explosion some 15 seconds after liftoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, at 6:22 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, October 28.

Antares’ first stage is powered by a pair of refurbished Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ26 engines originally manufactured some 40 years ago in the then Soviet Union and originally designated as the NK-33. Overall this was the 5th Antares launch using the AJ26 engines.

See my exclusive photos above and below showing the AJ26 engines with their original NK-33 stencil, during prelaunch processing and mating to the first stage inside Orbital’s Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at NASA Wallops.

The NK-33 was originally designed and manufactured in the 1960s by the Kuznetsov Design Bureau for the Soviet Union’s planned N1 rocket to propel cosmonauts to the moon during the space race with NASA’s hugely successful Apollo Moon Landing program.

First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Rocket developer Orbital Sciences Corp. said today, Nov. 5, that the launch mishap was probably due to “a failure in one of the two Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ26 stage one main engines.”

Engineers assisting Orbital’s Accident Investigation Board (AIB) say that failure in the AJ26 turbopump is the likely cause. The AIB is chaired by David Steffy, Chief Engineer of Orbital’s Advanced Programs Group.

“While the work of the AIB continues, preliminary evidence and analysis conducted to date points to a probable turbopump-related failure in one of the two Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ26 stage one main engines,” Orbital said in a statement.

“As a result, the use of these engines for the Antares vehicle likely will be discontinued,” said Orbital.

“We will likely discontinue the use of AJ26 rocket engines that had been used on the first five Antares launch vehicles unless and until those engines can be conclusively shown to be flight worthy,” noted David Thompson, Orbital’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, during an investor conference call.

Orbital’s options for the way forward will be outlined in a separate story.

Side view of two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today.  These engines powered the successful Antares  liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Side view of two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today. These engines powered the successful Antares liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014, at NASA Wallops, Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The Oct. 28 launch disaster was just the latest in a string of serious problems with the AJ-26/NK-33 engines.

Earlier this year an AJ26 engine failed and exploded during pre launch acceptance testing on a test stand on May 22, 2014, at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

Besides completely destroying the AJ26 engine, the explosion during engine testing also severely damaged the Stennis test stand. It has taken months of hard work to rebuild and restore the test stand and place it back into service.

An extensive engine analysis, recheck and test stand firings by Aerojet Rocketdyne and Orbital Sciences engineers was conducted to clear this new pair of engines for flight.

Aerojet Rocketdyne purchased approximately 40 NK-33 engines in the mid-1990s and ‘Americanized’ them with multiple modifications including a gimbal steering mechanism.

AJ26 engine failure was immediately suspected, though by no means certain, based on an inspection of numerous photos and videos from myself and many others that clearly showed a violent explosion emanating from the base of the two stage rocket.

Up close view of two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Universe Today.  These engines powered the successful Antares  liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Up close view of two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Universe Today. These engines powered the successful Antares liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014, at NASA Wallops, Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The remainder of the first stage and Antares entire upper stage was clearly intact at the moment of the explosion in all the imagery.

Antares was carrying the unmanned Cygnus cargo freighter on a mission dubbed Orb-3 to resupply the six person crew living aboard the International Space Station (ISS) with science experiments and needed equipment.

The AIB is making rapid progress in assessing the accident’s cause based on an analysis of the rocket’s telemetry as well as the substantial amounts of debris collected from the rocket and the Cygnus cargo freighter at the Wallops launch site.

A preliminary review of telemetry and video data has been conducted and substantial debris from the Antares rocket and its Cygnus payload has been collected and examined.

Antares rocket begins rollout atop transporter erector to Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Island Facility, VA., on Sept. 13, 2013.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket begins rollout atop transporter erector to Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Island Facility, VA., on Sept. 13, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

The 14 story Antares rocket is a two stage vehicle.

The liquid fueled first stage is filled with about 550,000 pounds (250,000 kg) of Liquid Oxygen and Refined Petroleum (LOX/RP) and powered by a pair of AJ26 engines that generate a combined 734,000 pounds (3,265kN) of sea level thrust.

The doomed mission was bound for the International Space Station (ISS) on a flight to bring up some 5000 pounds of (2200 kg) of science experiments, research instruments, crew provisions, spare parts, spacewalk and computer equipment and gear on a critical resupply mission in the Cygnus resupply ship.

Antares rocket stand erect, reflecting off the calm waters the night before their first night launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, targeted for Oct. 27 at 6:45 p.m.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Antares rocket stands erect, reflecting off the calm waters the night before the first night launch planned from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, which ended in disaster. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The Orbital-3, or Orb-3, mission was to be the third of eight cargo resupply missions to the ISS through 2016 under the NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract award valued at $1.9 Billion.

Orbital Sciences is under contract to deliver 20,000 kilograms of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts, and hardware for the eight ISS flights.

I was an eyewitness to the awful devastation suffered by the Orb-3 mission from the press viewing site at NASA Wallops located at a distance of about 1.8 miles away from the launch complex.

I was interviewed by NBC News and you can watch the entire story and see my Antares explosion photos featured at NBC Nightly News on Oct. 29 here.

Watch the Antares launch disaster unfold into a raging inferno in this dramatic sequence of my photos shot on site here.

Check out my raw video of the launch here.

Read my first hand account here.

Watch my interview at Universe Today’s Weekly Space Hangout on Oct 31, 2014, here.

Watch here for Ken’s onsite reporting direct from NASA Wallops.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes violently and is consumed in a gigantic aerial fireball seconds after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014 at 6:22 p.m.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket explodes violently and is consumed in a gigantic aerial fireball seconds after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Antares Explosion Investigation Focuses on First Stage Propulsion Failure

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – Investigators probing the Antares launch disaster are focusing on clues pointing to a failure in the first stage propulsion system that resulted in a loss of thrust and explosive mid-air destruction of the commercial rocket moments after liftoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, at 6:22 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, October 28.

The highly anticipated first night launch of the Orbital Sciences Corp. privately developed Antares rocket blasted off nominally and ascended for about 15 seconds until a rapid fire series of sudden and totally unexpected loud explosions sent shock waves reverberating all around the launch site and surroundings for miles and the rocket was quickly consumed in a raging fireball.

Antares was carrying the unmanned Cygnus cargo freighter on a mission dubbed Orb-3 to resupply the six person crew living aboard the International Space Station (ISS) with science experiments and needed equipment.

The 14 story Antares rocket is a two stage vehicle. The liquid fueled first stage is filled with about 550,000 pounds (250,000 kg) of Liquid Oxygen and Refined Petroleum (LOX/RP) and powered by a pair of AJ26 engines originally manufactured some 40 years ago in the then Soviet Union and designated as the NK-33.

Earlier this year an AJ26 engine failed and exploded during acceptance testing on May 22, 2014, at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. An extensive analysis and recheck by Orbital Sciences was conducted to clear this pair for flight.

I was an eyewitness to the awful devastation suffered by the Orb-3 mission from the press viewing site at NASA Wallops located at a distance of about 1.8 miles away from the launch complex.

Numerous photos and videos from myself (see herein) and many others clearly show a violent explosion emanating from the base of the two stage rocket. The remainder of the first stage and the entire upper stage was clearly intact at that point.

Orbital Sciences technicians at work on two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today at NASA Wallaps.  These engines powered the successful Antares  liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia bound for the ISS.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Orbital Sciences technicians at work on two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today at NASA Wallops. These engines powered the successful Antares liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014, at NASA Wallops, Virginia, bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

NASA announced that Orbital Sciences is leading the investigation into the rocket failure and quickly appointed an Accident Investigation Board (AIB) chaired by David Steffy, Chief Engineer of Orbital’s Advanced Programs Group.

The AIB is working under the oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“Evidence suggests the failure initiated in the first stage after which the vehicle lost its propulsive capability and fell back to the ground impacting near, but not on, the launch pad,” Orbital said in a statement.

At the post launch disaster briefing at NASA Wallops, I asked Frank Culbertson, Orbital’s Executive Vice President and General Manager of its Advanced Programs Group, to provide any specifics of the sequence of events and failure, a timeline of events, and whether the engines failed.

“The ascent stopped, there was disassembly of the first stage, and then it fell to Earth. The way the accident investigation proceeds is we lock down all the data [after the accident]. Then we go through a very methodical process to recreate the data and evaluate it. We need time to look at what failed from both a video and telemetry standpoint,” Culbertson told Universe Today.

Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket explodes moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The rocket telemetry has now been released to the accident investigation board.

“Our engineers presented a very quick look assessment to the Accident Investigation Board at the end of the day. It appears the Antares vehicle had a nominal pre-launch and launch sequence with no issues noted,” Orbital said in a statement.

“All systems appeared to be performing nominally until approximately T+15 seconds at which point the failure occurred.”

Blastoff of the 14 story Antares rocket took place from the beachside Launch Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA Wallops situated on the eastern shore of Virginia.

After the failure occurred the rocket fell back to the ground near, but not on top of, the launch pad.

“Prior to impacting the ground, the rocket’s Flight Termination System was engaged by the designated official in the Wallops Range Control Center,” said Orbital.

Technicians processing Antares rocket on Oct 26 to prepare for first night launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 27 at 6:45 p.m.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Technicians processing Antares rocket on Oct 26 to prepare for first night launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Since the rocket impacted just north of the pad, that damage was not as bad as initially feared.

From a public viewing area about two miles away, I captured some side views of the pad complex and damage it sustained.

Check out the details of my assessment in my prior article and exclusive photos showing some clearly discernible damage to the Antares rocket launch pad – here.

Damage is visible to Launch Pad 0A following catastrophic failure of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket moments after liftoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Damage is visible to Launch Pad 0A following catastrophic failure of Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket moments after liftoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The doomed mission was bound for the International Space Station (ISS) on a flight to bring up some 5000 pounds of (2200 kg) of science experiments, research instruments, crew provisions, spare parts, and spacewalk and computer equipment and gear on a critical resupply mission in the Cygnus resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

Among the top tasks of the AIB are “developing a ‘fault tree’ and a timeline of the important events during the launch sequence,” using the large volume of data available.

“We will analyze the telemetry. We have reams of data and telemetry that come down during launch and we will be analyzing that carefully to see if we can determine exactly the sequence of events, what went wrong, and then what we can do to fix it,” said Culbertson.

The accident team is also gathering and evaluating launch site debris.

“Over the weekend, Orbital’s Wallops-based Antares personnel continued to identify, catalogue, secure, and geolocate debris found at the launch site in order to preserve physical evidence and provide a record of the launch site following the mishap that will be useful for the AIB’s analysis and determination of what caused the Antares launch failure,” said Orbital.

Culberston expressed Orbital’s regret for the launch failure.

“We are disappointed we could not fulfill our obligation to the International Space Station program and deliver this load of cargo. And especially to the researchers who had science on board as well as to the people who had hardware and components on board for going to the station.”

“It’s a tough time to lose a launch vehicle and payload like this. Our team worked very hard to prepare it, with a lot of testing and analysis to get ready for this mission.”

Culbertson emphasized that Orbital will fix the problem and move forward.

“Something went wrong and we will find out what that is. We will determine the root cause and we will correct that. And we will come back and fly here at Wallops again. We will do all the things that are necessary to make sure it is as safe as we can make it, and that we solve the immediate problem of this particular mission.”

Cygnus pressurized cargo module - side view - during prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Culbertson noted that the public should not touch any rocket debris found.

“The investigation will include evaluating the debris around the launch pad. The rocket had a lot of hazardous equipment and materials on board that people should not be looking for or wanting to collect souvenirs. If you find anything that washes ashore or landed you should call the local authorities and definitely not touch it.”

The Orbital-3, or Orb-3, mission was to be the third of eight cargo resupply missions to the ISS through 2016 under the NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract award valued at $1.9 Billion.

Orbital Sciences is under contract to deliver 20,000 kilograms of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts, and hardware for the eight ISS flights.

At this point the future is unclear.

Watch here for Ken’s onsite reporting direct from NASA Wallops.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer