More than a year after an unmanned Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded moments after liftoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, the U.S. space agency has released stunning images of the disaster. On Oct.28 last year, the Antares rocket carrying Cygnus cargo spacecraft took off at 6:22 pm ET, only to explode mid-air moments later.
A catastrophic anomaly
The rocket was supposed to be carrying 5,000 pounds of food, supplies, and scientific instruments to the International Space Station. Though NASA described the crash as a “catastrophic anomaly,” no one was injured in the explosion. The new images were taken at the time by Joel Kowsky, a photo editor with the U.S. space agency in Washington D.C. The photos were posted on NASA’s official Flickr page.
What caused the explosion is still being debated, though NASA released an accident report last week. The investigators said the explosion was caused by “excessive wear on a turbo pump” bearing one of the two Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ-26 engines the rocket used. GenCorp spokesman, Glenn Mahone, said the failure was indeed caused by excessive wear on the turbo pump bearing, as pointed out by Orbital investigators.
NASA to announce winner of cargo contract
Meanwhile, NASA is set to award multi-billion dollar contracts later Thursday to establish the fleet of US vehicles to deliver cargo to the ISS through 2024. The current cargo haulers Orbital ATK and SpaceX expect to continue their services. Sierra Nevada Corp and Boeing are eyeing to get a piece of the action. The cargo deal is perhaps the last chance for Sierra Nevada to revive its Dream Chaser mini-shuttle.
Each winner of the contract will get six missions. NASA is looking to have more than two cargo haulers because its international partners will be reducing the frequency of flying to the space station. For instance, Japan’s HTV has only two more missions left while Europe’s ATV cargo vessel is already retired. Adding Sierra Nevada or Boeing would give the space agency a third rocket for resupply missions.