The Cable

Space Station Resupply Rocket Crashes in Fiery Explosion

NASA’s flirtation with the private sector to provide it with rocket-power took one step back on Tuesday in a very, very large explosion. Shortly after taking off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, an unmanned Antares rocket bound for the International Space Station crashed in a fiery bang that, miraculously, didn’t leave anyone hurt ...

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NASA’s flirtation with the private sector to provide it with rocket-power took one step back on Tuesday in a very, very large explosion.

Shortly after taking off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, an unmanned Antares rocket bound for the International Space Station crashed in a fiery bang that, miraculously, didn’t leave anyone hurt or killed.

The rocket was carrying an assortment of supplies, experiments, and satellites. The unmanned rocket was manufactured by Orbital Sciences, a Virginia company that has a contract to resupply the space station. The company is a competitor of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which is the other firm contracted to send resupply rockets to the International Space Station.

Following the end of NASA’s space shuttle program, a coterie of private space companies have emerged to develop a new method of human space flight. For NASA, relying on private companies allows the agency to carry out missions into space at a lower cost. As part of its increased reliance on private companies for spaceflight, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences are providing NASA with freight delivery to the space station.

Tuesday’s failed launch was the maiden flight of Orbital Science’s upgraded Antares 130 rocket. With a larger second-stage motor, the rocket is able to carry greater payloads. Tuesday’s launch was just the fifth launch of the Antares rocket system. The rocket is powered by left-over Soviet engines.

Orbital Sciences posted this rather sad tweet following the crash:

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace, its conflicts, and controversies. @eliasgroll

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