About six seconds after liftoff at 6:22 PM ET, the Antares rocket exploded in mid-air. Fortunately, no people were aboard and no one was injured. The cause of the explosion is currently unknown.
The rocket is built by Orbital, under a contract with NASA. The company said it formed an "anomaly investigation board" to ascertain the cause of the explosion, but was yet to work out exactly what went wrong. "What we know so far is pretty much what everyone saw in the video," Frank Culbertson, executive vice president of Orbital Science Corp, said during a call with reporters. Anyone who finds debris from the explosion was instructed to steer clear and call the relevant authorities.
No personnel were in the area, and there appear only to be damages to today's launch site at Wallops and vehicles, according to the NASA livestream. The Antares rocket would have launched a Cygnus spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station; this would have been Orbital's third resupply mission. The rocket was carrying 1360 pounds (617 kg) of food for the astronauts aboard the ISS, as well as flight crew equipment, science equipment for the US and international science communities, spacewalk equipment and hardware. NASA says that the astronauts aboard the station have enough food, water, and other supplies to last "well into" next year.
the astronauts on the space station witnessed the explosionTomorrow, a Russian Progress spacecraft will launch to the ISS, and a SpaceX flight is scheduled for December. Even if both launches go wrong, astronauts have four to six months of supplies aboard the space station, said Mike Suffredini, NASA’s space station program manager. The astronauts aboard the space station witnessed the explosion as it happened, Suffredini said.
This isn't the first major explosion for Orbital Sciences, according to a Smithsonian article. Shares of the company plummeted after market to $25.65, after closing at $30.37. Today's launch was the third of eight missions it's contracted for, at a total of $1.9 billion for all the flights. NASA also has a contract with SpaceX, which has successfully flown 4 missions to the ISS.
The Antares rocket a two-stage launch vehicle that can shepherd up to about 13,500 pounds (6,120 kg), to the International Space Station; today's launch was carrying about 5,000 pounds (2,200 kg). The first launch took place from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on April 21st, 2013.
In September, NASA awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing to shuttle astronauts to the ISS in flights that could come as soon as 2017. Today's failure may raise concerns about future missions — ones with people on board.
Here's what the explosion looked like for press observers:
Below is another view, this one from bystanders:
Update 2:00AM ET, October 29th: Story updated with information provided during Orbital's press conference.