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Rocket Explodes on the Launch Pad, Questions Linger About 50-Year-Old Soviet-Era Engines

29 Oct 2014, 4:13 pm

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The Antares Rocket, a product of Orbital Sciences Corporation, was supposed to launch on Tuesday; heading to the International Space Station with supplies, science experiments and other sophisticated devices.

Unfortunately, six seconds into the launch — from NASA’s Wallops Island facility on the Atlantic Coast — there was a catastrophic malfunction and the rocket came tumbling down to Earth. The resulting explosion caused a massive fireball on the launch pad.

NASA engineers are already at work trying to piece together exactly what went wrong.

They released the following statement, “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.”

Frank Culbertson, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Advanced Programs Group at Dulles-based Orbital Sciences, also released a statement that read in part, “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.”

Luckily no one was injured when the unmanned rocket exploded, but questions about the decades-old rocket engines are now being asked.

According to the Washington Post, the engine used is a variant used in the Soviet N1 Rocket — the Soviet’s answer to the Saturn V rocket. All four of the N1 launches failed, most of them due to engine issues.

After decades in storage, Orbital Sciences bought the unused — 50-year-old — engines for repurposing in their Antares Rocket.

At present, it appears Orbtial Science has no alternative to using the soviet-made engines.

“When you look at it there are not many other options around the world in terms of using power plants of this size, certainly not in this country, unfortunately,” Frank Culbertson told The Guardian.

Just a day after the failure at Wallops Island, NASA successfully launched a GPS satellite — on an Atlas V rocket — from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

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