Ed Sealing was not expecting to see an uncontrolled explosion last night. He probably intended to catch a great view from his Cessna 177 Cardinal of Orbital Science’s Antares rocket launch. While flying a northernly course, to the west of Wallops Island, Virginia, he ended up filming the catastrophic failure of an International Space Station resupply mission. Here is the video of an aerial view of the Antares explosion, which he caught on his iPad Mini.
Even from his aircraft, Sealing says, in the video, that he could feel the aftershock from the explosion.
The attempted launch was originally planned Monday but had been delayed until yesterday because a boat had entered restricted waters around the facility. Many had gathered to see the event as it would have been easily visible all around the eastern seaboard. Everything looked nominal but, as Space News explains,
Approximately ten seconds after liftoff, however, an explosion took place at the base of the rocket’s first stage. The rocket fell back to the ground near the launch pad, triggering a second, larger explosion…
No injuries were reported in the launch failure, NASA and Orbital officials said. Damage was contained to an area on the south end of Wallops Island, according to NASA Wallops director Bill Wrobel. The launch pad sustained damage, but Wrobel said it was too early to determine the extent of that damage.
NASA and Orbital Sciences will be conducting an investigation to find out what caused the launch, dubbed Orb-3, to fail. William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Directorate said in NASA’s press release that,
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
Questions were raised on Twitter last night about the Antares’ AJ-26 engine. Space News had reported in May about how the engine, which was originally designed for the abandoned Soviet lunar program, was destroyed during testing. The Antares rocket is propelled by two of these “1970s-vintage” engines that are refurbished by Aerojet Rocketdyne in California.