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Orbital Stock Takes a Serious Tumble as Company Seeks to Reassure Investors


Orbital Sciences stock took a major nose dive today following the failure of the company’s Antares launch vehicle last night. The stock is down more than 15 percent today.

Orbital officials held a conference call with investors and analysts earlier today. [Transcript] David  W.  Thompson,  CEO and chairman, and Garrett  E.  Pierce,  CFO and vice  chairman, spoke during the call. Below is a summary of the major points they made:

  • a lot of data on launch, don’t expect a problem in determining what went wrong
  • expects to zero in on the cause of the accident over the coming days
  • could take longer to determine the root cause
  • cautioned against drawing early conclusions, sometimes early guesses they are wrong
  • launch complex spared any major damage
  • Orbital carried insurance that will cover contract revenue on flight and repairs to launch complex
  • company has “ample and conservative” management reserves for the recovery period
  • next Antares/Cygnus launch was scheduled for early April
  • expects a delay of three months but hopefully not more than one year — too early to tell at this stage
  • company has amply supply of AJ-26 engines to cover remaining launches to the International Space Station under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA
  • about two years away from flying Antares launch vehicle with a new first-stage engine
  • company could accelerate that change over if AJ-26 engine is identified as cause of the accident
  • will make a decision in November as to what to do about the engine change
  • hinted at possible other options other than accelerating the engine change but would not elaborate
  • still on track to submit a proposal for the CRS-2 contract in a few weeks
  • flights under CRS-1 extension agreement and CRS-2 proposal would be done with a new first-stage engine
  • do not expect the failure to affect planned merger with ATK
  • too early to tell whether early December vote on ATK merger will be delayed.

NASA Statement on Orbital Sciences Antares Failure

The bottom of the Antares explodes right after liftoff.

The bottom of the Antares explodes right after liftoff.

NASA Statement Regarding Oct. 28 Orbital Sciences Corp. Launch Mishap

The following statement is from William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, regarding the mishap that occurred at Pad 0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia during the attempted launch of Orbital Sciences Corp’s Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft at 6:22 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 28.

“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. 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.”

Updates will be posted as available on NASA’s Orbital page, at:

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.

Orbital Sciences Statement on Antares Failure

The bottom of the Antares explodes right after liftoff.

The bottom of the Antares explodes right after liftoff.


Orbital Sciences Corporation confirms that today’s Antares rocket launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility was not successful. Shortly after lift-off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A at 6:22 p.m. (EDT), the vehicle suffered a catastrophic failure. According to NASA’s emergency operations officials, there were no casualties and property damage was limited to the south end of Wallops Island. Orbital has formed an anomaly investigation board, which will work in close coordination with all appropriate government agencies, to determine the cause of today’s mishap.

“It is far too early to know the details of what happened,” said Mr. Frank Culbertson, Orbital’s Executive Vice President and General Manager of its Advanced Programs Group.“As we begin to gather information, our primary concern lies with the ongoing safety and security of those involved in our response and recovery operations. We will conduct a thorough investigation immediately to determine the cause of this failure and what steps can be taken to avoid a repeat of this incident. As soon as we understand the cause we will begin the necessary work to return to flight to support our customers and the nation’s space program.”

Orbital will provide more information as it becomes available and is verified.

Video of Antares Rocket Explosion


Antares Rocket Explodes, Destroys Cygnus Freighter


Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares rocket exploded shortly after liftoff from Wallops Island, Virginia. The explosion destroyed a Cygnus freighter carrying supplies and experiments to the International Space Station.

The explosion reportedly occurred about 6 seconds after launch. There was a massive explosion and then the vehicle fell back onto the launch pad. The Antares engines were throttled up to 108 percent when the explosion occurred.

The bottom of the Antares explodes right after liftoff.

The bottom of the Antares explodes right after liftoff.

Launch officials have confirmed there were no injuries in the explosion. All personnel are safe and accounted for at this time.

The cargo manifest includes 26 Planet Labs satellites that would be launched off the space station. Planetary Resources also had its first test satellite aboard Cygnus. Thee were also a number of student experiments on the ship. NASA has the full manifest.

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

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

This mission was Orbital Sciences’ third contracted Cygnus cargo delivery flight to the International Space Station under an 8-flight contract. Two previous contracted Cygnus missions and a demonstration flight had succeeded.

This was the fifth flight of the Antares rocket. Four previous flights had been success.

Antares uses Arojet-Rocketdyne AJ-26 engines on its first stage. These are refurbished NK-33 engines originally designed for the Soviet manned lunar program in the 1970’s. There have been problems with corrosion on the 40-year old engines; one engine exploded on its test stand in May.

The rocket’s first-stage structure is built in Ukraine. Antares second stage consists of a solid-fuel rocket supplied by ATK.

My deepest sympathies to the Orbital Sciences team and all those with payloads aboard the vehicle. It’s a bad day, but these things happen in this field. This is the nature of this business.

UPDATE: Orbital and NASA officials will have a press conference at 9 p.m. EDT (6 p.m. PDT).

Vega Launch of ESA’s Experimental Space Plane Delayed


PARIS (ESA PR) — The Vega launch of ESA’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, due on 18 November from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, has been postponed to allow for additional analyses of the Vega flight trajectory.

For this mission, instead of heading north into a polar orbit, as on previous flights, Vega will head eastwards to release the spaceplane into a suborbital path reaching all the way to the Pacific Ocean to test new technologies for future autonomous controlled reentry for return missions.

Continue reading ‘Vega Launch of ESA’s Experimental Space Plane Delayed’

Atlas V Launch Set for Wednesday


GPSIIF8_Sticker_CROPPEDULA Mission Update

The Launch Readiness Review was completed on Monday in preparation for the Air Force’s GPS IIF-8 launch. The mission is set to lift off on a ULA Atlas V rocket on Wednesday, Oct. 29 at 1:21 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Today’s L-2 forecast continues to show a 70 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for launch.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 vehicle will deliver the GPS IIF-8 satellite to semi-synchronous circular orbit. Liftoff will occur from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.

The Navstar GPS is a constellation of satellites that provides navigation data to military and civilian users worldwide. The system is operated and controlled by the 50th Space Wing, located at Schriever Air Force Base, CO.

Continue reading ‘Atlas V Launch Set for Wednesday’

Midland, XCOR Celebrate Spaceport License


Officials from XCOR and Orbital Outfitters journeyed to Midland for a celebration of the FAA granting a spaceport license to Midland International Airport. This Tweet was the only official word out of XCOR about the celebration.

World View Enterprises Negotiating With Spaceport America


World View Capsule Balloon Space_131112
The Albuquerque Journal reports on negotiations between World View Enterprises and Spaceport America:

World View Enterprises Inc. of Tucson, Ariz., plans to send customers on balloon flights that climb 20 miles into the stratosphere, allowing passengers to view the earth’s curvature and the dark of space while wining and dining in a luxurious cabin with 360-degree views.

No decisions have been made, but the company is in negotiations with Spaceport executives to launch its balloons from southern New Mexico, starting in late 2016, said Chief Technology Officer Taber MacCallum.

“We hope to have a home base at the Spaceport,” MacCallum told the Journal. “It’s an amazing facility.”

The company expects to charge $75,000 for seats on a luxury capsule attached to a helium balloon. The capsule, which will carry six passengers and two pilots, will slowly ascend to 100,000 feet and then float in near space before returning to earth. The five-hour trip will include a meal and an open bar in the capsule, equipped with a lavatory and enough room for customers to walk around.