The Antares rocket explosion will not end partnerships between privately-held corporations and NASA, although there is certain to be some repercussions throughout the private space industry.
Orbital Sciences designed the Antares rocket that ended in a "catastrophic failure" six seconds after liftoff from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The Cygnus cargo spacecraft attached to the booster carried 5,000 pounds of experiments, cargo, and other supplies headed to the International Space Station (ISS).
Private space developers have been vital to NASA in an effort to ferry supplies to the orbiting outpost since the Space Shuttle program was canceled in 2011. Orbital Sciences and SpaceX, owned by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, have each been awarded contracts by NASA to delivery supplies to the ISS. This latest failed mission was the third of eight planned flights to the orbiting outpost.
SpaceX is scheduled for their fifth flight to the space station in December. They recently suffered their own setback on August 22, 2014, when an experimental rocket exploded in the skies above Texas. That vehicle was meant to test rocket stages designed to takeoff and land vertically.
"Three engine F9R Dev1 vehicle auto-terminated during test flight. No injuries or near injuries. Rockets are tricky," Elon Musk tweeted, immediately following the accident.
Orbital Sciences is conducting investigations into the latest mishap, in order to correct the problem prior to the next planned launch.
"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," Orbital Sciences reported in a press statement on the latest accident.
Mars One is a private organization that may beat NASA to the next great goal for human spaceflight - sending a crew to Mars. The national space agency intends to launch their first people to the Red Planet sometime during the 2030's. Mars One is currently planning on launching their first crewed mission in 2024.
The Space Launch System (SLS) is designed to provide access to space for NASA crews, and will, one day, be capable of carrying humans to Mars and the asteroids. However, the first flight of the SLS may not occur until November 2018. Spaceflight with the Russians is strained due to the international crisis in the Ukraine. This combination of events leaves NASA with little choice, except to depend on private corporations and organizations to bring supplies, and one day people, to orbit.
"Space flight is inherently risky. As we push the frontiers of space there will be setbacks. But our commercial space ventures will ultimately be successful," Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, who traveled to space aboard the Space Shuttle, stated in a press release.