In Summary

An Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket has exploded at 9.22am (AEDT) just seconds into a resupply mission to the International Space Station. Fortunately this was an uncrewed vehicle and no one was injured at NASA’s Wallops flight facility in Virginia, although the facility itself appears to have suffered extensive damage. This was the third launch in a series of resupply missions awarded by NASA to Orbital Sciences.

Swinburne University of Technology astronomer Dr Alan Duffy says that while rocket launches are becoming more common they are far from being routine.

“We tend to think of routine resupply missions to the space station as a ‘space taxi’ but the fact is a rocket launch is a controlled explosion that you ride into orbit and is anything but mundane. Getting into space is hard.

“The Antares rocket was carrying a Cygnus spacecraft loaded with over 2 tonnes of cargo to the International Space Station, but fortunately there is no issue with supplies for the space station.

“The greatest loss today has been the destruction of 18 student-led science projects into topics as diverse as how microgravity effects the growth of plants to milk spoiling in space. I’m absolutely heart-broken for these students who have put so many months work into this.

“For Orbital Science this is a double disaster as they not only lose this rocket but damage their safety record at a time when their competitors Boeing and SpaceX race ahead in trying to fly crewed missions to the space station.

“It’s too early to say what the cause is, but the sudden loss of thrust so soon after launch was the only visible problem after a seemingly textbook launch, but you can bet NASA will get to the bottom of it,” Dr Duffy said.

“NASA takes safety seriously and this is a graphic example of why. The launch had even been postponed a day as a boat wandered into the exclusion zone East of the launch facility scrubbing the initial launch. I can imagine that captain is feeling very relieved today.”

Information on the launch by NASA here.

Video footage of the launch here.

For more information please contact Dr Alan Duffy on Twitter: @astroduff Web: