An unmanned Antares rocket delivering supplies to the International Space Station exploded just seconds after lift-off at a launch pad on Wallops Island, Virginia.
The explosion marks the first accident since US space agency NASA appointed private contractors to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. No one was injured in the explosion.
NASA confirmed Orbital Sciences Corp’s Antares rocket lifted off to start its third resupply mission to the International Space Station at 6.22pm EDT (10.22pm Irish time), and exploded in a huge fireball.
The Orbital team had not tracked any issues prior to launch.
It is understood that the spacecraft had been carrying top secret cryptographic equipment.
“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,” NASA said.
“While NASA is disappointed that Orbital Sciences’ third contracted resupply mission to the International Space Station was not successful today, we will continue to move forward toward the next attempt once we fully understand today’s mishap,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Directorate.
“The crew of the International Space Station is in no danger of running out of food or other critical supplies.
“Orbital has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first two missions to the station earlier this year, and we know they can replicate that success. Launching rockets is an incredibly difficult undertaking, and we learn from each success and each setback.
“Today’s launch attempt will not deter us from our work to expand our already successful capability to launch cargo from American shores to the International Space Station,” Gerstenmaier added.
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