No Cause of Antares Failure Identified Yet

A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.
A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.

A NASA/Orbital Sciences press conference just ended. Here’s are the key details:

  • Orbital’s Frank Culbertson said launch operators realized there was a failure at 10 to 12 seconds into the flight. They noted it on telemetry and visually.
  • The range safety officer activated the vehicle destruct system at about 20 seconds.
  • It’s too early to say exactly what caused the failure. Data have been locked down, which is standard procedure.
  • Culbertson says it is too soon to say how long it will take to resume flights.
  • There were no injuries in the accident, all personnel are safe.
  • Damage was limited to the southern area of Wallops Island.
  • The extent of damage to the launch pad is unknown. Some systems are continuing to hold pressure.
  • Vehicle integration facility is outside the hazard zone, officials expect to see no damage there.
  • Crews are allowing fires to burn themselves out and securing the perimeter.
  • Personnel will enter the area on Wednesday morning to begin recovery efforts.
  • Officials have warned local residents to avoid any debris they find because it might be hazardous or toxic and to notify authorities.
  • NASA officials said there was nothing crucial on the Cygnus freighter.
  • International Space Station could probably go until March without any resupply missions.
  • A Russian Progress resupply ship is scheduled to launch on Wednesday.
  • SpaceX Dragon freighter is set to fly on Dec. 9.
  • Officials might rearrange some of the Dragon manifest.
  • Orbital does carry some insurance on the rocket. Culbertson unable to say how much.
  • There are provisions in the resupply contract to reimburse NASA for Orbital’s failure to perform. No details provided.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    At last some solid data on the main problem with Antares and Cyngus:

    “Culbertson: full cost of rocket and spacecraft is more than $200M. Don’t know cost of damages yet.”

  • DavidR2014

    Few things spring to mind, having just found out about this; I didn’t watch it live:
    1) I find this whole event very saddening.
    2) This is probably bad news for Spacex, since it will embolden people in Congress to claim that private companies can’t be trusted with astronauts, and could cause further problems eg. funding, with the CCtCap work.
    3) I expect that Orbital will bounce back from this, this incident reminds me of when Dreamchaser fell over on landing a few months back.
    4) Orbital’s reliance on old Soviet engines, (AFAIK not having any liquid engines of their own in house) and their relatively extensive supply chain, could make fixing any problems that caused this flight anomaly difficult, if a quality problem turns out to be the cause.
    5) The good news is that the USA isn’t relying on a single vehicle to take supplies to ISS. If this had been a shuttle and CRS hadn’t happened, then we would be facing dead astronauts and a two year gap in ISS resupply from the USA whilst an investigation concluded. As it is, the next US resupply is scheduled for early December.
    6) Hopefully this event will spur Orbital on, to deal with some of the issues around Antares, like the choice and availability of the engine and also the amount of work that they do in house on the rocket construction. Spacex make almost all of their stuff in house and seem to be cheaper and more reliable than Orbital at this time.

  • therealdmt

    Good comments.

    I’ll add that Orbital recently (in the last few weeks) said they had made a choice for a follow-on engine supplier (but they chose not to announce who that was for the time being).

    I think Orbital has been aware that using these very old engines isn’t ideal and they’ve been actively looking to move on for a few years now (specifically, they sued to try to open up access to the RD-180).

    Hopefully, it’s not too little too late.

  • windbourne

    I will be shot down, but have to differ on a few. Namely, osc, as a launch provider, is likely done until they take the spacex approach and bring it all in-house.
    Antonio outsourced everything possible to Russia, Ukraine, and Europe. This will show up in reports.

    You are right that this does not help spacex, but likely will not hurt them. The reason is that Boeing and SNC will be pushing for cargo versions on atlas/delta. Congress will back that.

  • DavidR2014

    My guess would be that if Spacex stood alone against Congress, then it would be slaughtered, but if Boeing is there aswell, then Boeing likely has many “friends in high places” who could well be prepared to “give them a second chance”. Spacex would ride on the back of this support for Boeing.

  • Vladislaw

    In the CRS contract Orbital received 1.9 billion for 8 launches. That is 237.5 million for each Antares and Cygnus vehicles. Plus any extras they are getting.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Yes. the “more than $200M” is a quote from Culbertson at todays Antares press conference. The exact number is not the point though. The point is that it is way too high. Especially for a cobbled together rocket made from off the shelf parts.

  • Michael J. Listner

    More Space X pom pom waving.

  • Michael J. Listner

    I am speculating, but it dawned on me that Orbital has chosen a solid to
    replace the AJ-26. This would explain their hesitancy to make a public
    announcement because the solid would likely come from ATK. Any
    announcement of such a deal would increase the value of ATK’s stock and
    potentially affect the merger if announced prematurely.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Yes. After all, not everyone is in favour of space flight being as expensive as possible.

  • Vladislaw

    I understood what you were impling, I just wanted to toss a little gas on the fire and point out it was even worse than 200 million.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    cheers mate, understood.

  • mfck

    Yeah, it’s a sport, you know… Keeps one fit and happy. You should try it. SpaceX cheering is a perfect starter. Easy, rewarding and fun. Once you want something more demanding, you could try SNC or ULA. There’s Virgin Galactic and BlueOrigin if you want a challenge. Hell, if you good at it you may even go pro one day and make some money, eh.. Oh, and there is that Russian program which sponsors full academic scholarship in one of the Russian universities for RosKosmos cheerers.

  • therealdmt

    Ah, right.

  • Vladislaw

    So if someone says they like a chevy more than ford do you jump on the ford bandwagon and call anyone who likes chevy better they are chevy pom pom waving? If someone likes a mac better than an IBM .. do you accuse those of pom pom waving for Apple? Why always the support of the status quo and anyone who likes a different producer is a pom pom waver?
    OR
    Is only for just this one single company SpaceX .. if someone likes spacex products over boeing or lockheed products .. THOSE people have to be singled out as pom pom wavers?

  • windbourne

    Ok; this is weird.
    OSC blew up Antares because they saw issues with it, according to CNN.com
    So, the question becomes, why did OSC not admit this?

    Things are very weird on that one.