Wednesday’s successful launch of a Russian space vehicle taking supplies to the International Space Station was in sharp contrast to the explosion of a private U.S. cargo space craft shortly after it’s Tuesday launch on a similar mission. But U.S. space agency NASA, which contracted the private firm to supply the space station, says the program will move forward, with more launches to come.
Under a $1.9 billion contract with NASA, Orbital Sciences Corporation, based in Virginia, has sent two cargo vehicles to the International Space Station without a hitch.
This time, their Cygnus spacecraft, powered by an Antares rocket was carrying more than two tons of water and food and also some classified equipment.
But several seconds after the launch the rocket blew up, before the new second stage motor was able to ignite.
The explosion completely destroyed the cargo and damaged the launch pad, but no injuries or loss of life were reported.
At a press conference at Wallops Island launch facility Executive Vice President and General Manager at Orbital Sciences Corporation, Frank Culbertson, said the Antares program will be put on hold.
“We will not fly until we understand the root cause and the corrective action necessary to insure that this doesn’t happen again," said Culbertson.
President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, Eric Stallmer, says the space flight industry is already looking ahead.
“It’s a setback, a short-term setback, but Orbital, they have still four more launches to go to the International Space Station and we anticipate those to be a huge success," said Stallmer.
However, Orbital Corporation’s revenue will suffer, according to John Logsdon of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute.
“Because not only was this a major source of revenue for the company, this commercial cargo contract, but we don’t know yet how much damage has been done to the launch pad and it’s the only pad from which the Antares vehicle could be launched," said Logsdon.
NASA has a similar contract with another private firm, Space X Corporation, based in California, and their cargo vehicle is scheduled to launch in December.
For now the U.S. is only sending unmanned flights into space. but that will change. Space X and Boeing have both signed contracts with NASA and manned space flights are planned as soon as 2017.