Orbital Sciences hopes to quickly find cause of rocket failure

May 11, 2017 – 06:12 am

Orbital Sciences co-founder, chairman and CEO David Thompson. Credit: NASA/Bill IngallsA day after an explosion that destroyed an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket carrying a space station cargo ship, company officials said Wednesday they hope to zero in on the likely cause of the mishap within a week or so, based on a detailed review of telemetry, analysis of video and inspection of recovered debris.

The 130-foot-tall Antares rocket, powered by extensively modified Soviet-era first-stage engines, blasted off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Va., at 6:22 p.m. EDT (GMT-4) Tuesday, kicking off a flight to deliver more than 5, 000 pounds of cargo and supplies to the International Space Station.

But just 15 seconds after liftoff, the rocket suffered a catastrophic first-stage failure, falling back to Earth and exploding in a huge fireball. The Cygnus cargo ship atop the rocket, loaded with station supplies, also was destroyed.

David Thompson, chairman and chief executive of Orbital Sciences, said an inspection of the launch pad and nearby facilities Wednesday revealed less damage than expected.

“Fortunately, no one was injured as a result of the accident, ” he told financial analysts in a conference call. “And based on the preliminary inspections that were conducted this morning at Wallops Island, it appears that the launch pad complex itself was spared from any major damage. In addition, the Antares Vehicle Assembly Building and related Cygnus spacecraft processing facilities at other locations within the Wallops area were not affected by the failure in any way.”

He said it was too soon to determine what might have triggered the mishap, although a preliminary look at telemetry suggested possible explanations. He did not elaborate.

One natural suspect is the rocket’s main propulsion system, powered by two Soviet-era engines originally built for a Russian moon rocket that later was abandoned after a series of in-flight failures. Engines left over from that program were mothballed, and Aerojet Rocketdyne bought about 40 of the high-performance powerplants in the 1990s. The renamed AJ26 engines were refurbished, equipped with modern avionics and exhaustively tested to ensure they were safe to fly.

But an AJ26 engine being test fired last May suffered a catastrophic malfunction. Orbital carried out a major investigation to find out what went wrong and while details were never provided, company officials said the likely cause had been identified and that new test procedures and inspections were implemented to prevent a repeat of the failure.

Source: spaceflightnow.com

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  • avatar Can you tell me when SpaceX's Elon Musk vowed to make orbit?
    • A private company called SpaceX launched its 3rd rocket which failed a few minutes after launch. Stages failed to separate in the rocket, which caused the rocket to go off course and fail structurally. It was launched from an island in the Pacific Ocean, so there is no danger of debris falling on populated areas. I am sure the company is insured for such an eventuality.