Six seconds after lift-off, an Antares rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station exploded over the launch pad in Virginia at 6:22 p.m. ET.
The explosion of Orbital Sciences‘s unmanned rocket at the Wallops Flight Facility on eastern shore of Virginia incurred significant property damage on the south end of Wallops Island, but there were no injuries, according to NASA.
This was Orbital Sciences’s third commercial resupply mission to the ISS. Orbital Sciences is leading an anomaly investigation with the Federal Aviation Administration, with the participation of NASA, to gather data and determine the cause behind the catastrophic failure. Shares of Orbital, which closed Tuesday at $30.37, dipped to as low as $24.51, down 19%, in after-hours trading.
“It’s a tough time to lose a launch vehicle like this and its payload,” Orbital executive vice president Frank Culbertson said in a press conference held Tuesday evening. A crew will begin at daybreak to survey the site and debris as well as analyze video evidence. He warned people from collecting or touching any debris because of the hazardous materials on board and to report any evidence found to NASA.
“We will come here and fly out of Wallops again,” he said. “I can assure you we will find out what went wrong, we will correct it, and we will fly again.”
The rocket with its 5,000 pounds of cargo and equipment were valued at more than $200 million. The actual costs will be much higher after factoring in the on-ground damage. None of the cargo was considered critical, said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administer of human explorations and operations. “There’s no problem with the station. We’re in good shape from the consumable standpoint,” he said, noting the crew aboard the ISS has enough water and food to last until March. “We feel for Orbital, and we want them to understand what occurred and get them back flying as soon as they are able to do that,” he added.
The Antares launch was originally scheduled for Monday night, but it was scrubbed when a sailboat was detected off the coast. Up until the launch Tuesday night, the space agency reported no technical concerns and 100% favorable weather.
In August, a test rocket from SpaceX automatically detonated when it detected an anomaly shortly after launching from McGregor, Texas.