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Unmanned rocket explodes

LIZ LEVEY ’DOAH STAFF WRITER

On a clear evening, an Orbital Sciences Corp.’s An- tares rocket exploded about six seconds after launch from the Wallops Flight Facility along the Atlantic Ocean, which produced huge flames and loud booms along the eastern Virginia coast but no injuries or deaths.

The unmanned NASA- contracted rocket exploded in midair early evening on Oct. 28. The Antares Rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft had been set to launch at 6:22 p.m. ET; the launch had been delayed one day after a boat sailed into a restricted safety zone beneath the rocket’s intended flight path. Both the rocket and the cargo spacecraft were carrying roughly 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments to the International Space Station.

Virginia-based Orbital Sciences is one of two com- panies hired by NASA to fly cargo to the station after the space shuttles were retired. The planned flight was to be the third of eight under the company’s $1.9 billion con- tract with NASA. The rocket and spacecraft, which together cost more than $200 million, according to Frank Culbert- son, the general manager of Orbital’s Advanced Programs Group, are gone. There’s other damage beyond including the Launchpad, some support buildings at Wallops have blown-out windows and doors, and a sounding rocket launcher and other buildings near the pad have severe damage.

The initial assessment also showed that the transporter erector launcher and lightning suppression rods at the pad sustained the most damage, though the night skies made it hard to immediately gauge how much.

Antares carried a Cygnus space- craft packed with 5,055 pounds of supplies, science experiments and equipment. The experiments varied widely, from student research to complicated medical studies. Some of the research highlights for the mission included: A drain brain health study, which examines blood flow to help advance treatment for neurological problems faced by space station crewmembers, a meteor study, which analyzes video and images of the atmosphere to provide insight on meteoroid dust and development of planets and also a re-entry breakup recorder, which uses sensors to record data during reentry. That data is used to determine reentry hazards.

The crew aboard the station is not lacking on supplies. “We have plenty of supplies onboard of the space station,” said Mike Suffredini, program manager for NASA’s Inter- national Space Station told CNN. “The crew has all the food, water and other consumables necessary to sup- port them well into next year. I think if no other vehicle showed up, we could go all the way into the March time frame. If Orbital can’t resupply the space station, others can.”

Officials from NASA and Or- bital hope to find out what caused the failure in the coming days. So far, NASA knows that the ascent stopped, some disassembly on the first stage and then it fell to Earth. What was left of the spacecraft and rocket plum- meted back to Earth, causing even more flames upon impact. For now it seems like this will delay future mis- sions. The question that everyone is asking how will this affect the private space industry.

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