It appears that the Orb-3 mission of Orbital Sciences, which was supposed to bring supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), was not really meant to push through this month.
On Monday, Oct. 27, the space technology company's Antares rocket was scheduled to blast off from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia carrying the Cygnus cargo spacecraft loaded with over 5,000 lbs. of supplies for the U.S space agency's outpost in low Earth orbit.
About 10 minutes before the rocket was supposed to blast off at 6:45 p.m., the liftoff was cancelled because a boat was in a restricted area. The launch was rescheduled on Tuesday at 6:22 p.m. but the second attempt turned out to be more futile than the first.
Just seconds after liftoff, the unmanned 14-story Antares rocket that was carrying the Cygnus cargo ship exploded into flames and crashed back on Earth. NASA said that no one was injured and that all personnel around the launch site were accounted for. NASA's launch control also said that property damage seemed to be only limited to the rocket and launch facility.
"The Orbital Sciences team is executing its contingency procedures, securing the site and data, including all telemetry from the Antares launch vehicle and Cygnus spacecraft," the space agency said.
It isn't yet clear what caused the catastrophic incident. In a statement, Orbital's Executive Vice President Frank Culbertson said that their primary concern as of the moment lies on the safety and security of response and recovery operations personnel but they will immediately conduct an investigation on what have caused the costly mishap.
"We will conduct a thorough investigation immediately to determine the cause of this failure and what steps can be taken to avoid a repeat of this incident," Culbertson said. "As soon as we understand the cause we will begin the necessary work to return to flight to support our customers and the nation's space program."
Phil Plait, from Slate's Bad Astronomy, said that the investigation will likely look into old Russian engines that were used in the first stage of the launch.
"These are very old engines (built in the 1960s and 70s) that are refurbished. While it's not known if these were the cause of the explosion, I suspect they'll be very carefully scrutinized in the investigation," Plait said. "A recent test of one engine ended in failure."
Hours after the accident, Orbital Sciences stock plummeted by 12.74 percent.