Fire in engine doomed Orbital rocket on space station flight (Update)

October 30, 2015 byMarcia Dunn
Fire in engine doomed Orbital rocket on space station flight
In this Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014 file photo, an unmanned Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket headed for the International Space Station explodes shortly after liftoff at Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. In a report released in October 2015, NASA's independent review team said a fire and explosion in a rocket engine are to blame for the failed space station shipment last October. (Jay Diem/Eastern Shore News via AP)

A fire and explosion in a rocket engine are being blamed for a botched commercial space station shipment last October.

NASA released an investigation report this week, a full year after the Virginia launch accidentNASA's independent review team said the initial fire was caused by friction from rubbing parts in a liquid oxygen turbopump. The pump was in one of the old Russian-built engines of Orbital Sciences Corp.'s unmanned Antares rocket.

The pump exploded seconds after liftoff on Oct. 28, 2014, damaging a second engine, according to the report issued Thursday. The rocket lost thrust and fell toward the ground. Launch controllers sent a destruct signal just before impact to minimize damage. Even so, the Wallops Island launch complex was ruined. Repairs continue, and the Antares remains grounded.

Orbital Sciences—now Orbital ATK following a merger—was hired by NASA along with the SpaceX company to deliver supplies to the International Space Station.

In an unfortunate twist, California-based SpaceX also is grounded following a failed launch in June from Cape Canaveral. SpaceX said a snapped strut in its Falcon rocket's upper stage caused the accident.

Fire in engine doomed Orbital rocket on space station flight
In this Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014 file photo, an unmanned Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket headed for the International Space Station lifts off from the Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. shortly before exploding. In a report released in October 2015, NASA's independent review team said a fire and explosion in a rocket engine are to blame for the failed space station shipment last October. (Jay Diem/Eastern Shore News via AP)

To chip away at the supply backlog until the Antares is flying again, Orbital has purchased a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket to make a space station delivery in early December from Cape Canaveral.

NASA said it's unclear why the turbopump failed, but identified three possible causes: poor design; manufacturing or workmanship defect; or debris that somehow got inside. It could have been any one or a combination of factors, the report stated.

Virginia-based Orbital is replacing these kerosene engines—which were made decades ago near Moscow—with newer different engines, also made in Russia. The company needs to carry out thorough testing before the next Antares launch, the NASA review team urged.

Orbital expects to resume launches in 2016. SpaceX, meanwhile, hopes to be back launching by year's end.

Explore further: NASA image: Antares rocket at sunrise

More information: NASA: www.nasa.gov/subject/3121/commercial-space/

Orbital ATK: www.orbitalatk.com/space-systems/overview/

Related Stories

NASA image: Antares rocket at sunrise

October 27, 2014

The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard, is seen on launch Pad-0A during sunrise, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014, at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Engine in failed rocket launch likely to be pulled

November 5, 2014

Orbital Sciences says it will likely stop using the type of engines that were employed when its unmanned Antares commercial supply rocket bound for the International Space Station exploded moments after liftoff last week.

Orbital blames rocket engine failure for launchpad blast

November 5, 2014

Orbital Sciences Corporation said Wednesday a preliminary probe into last month's unmanned rocket blast shows an engine failure was to blame for the explosion shortly after liftoff from Wallops Island, Virginia.

Launch pad where rocket exploded back next year

December 17, 2014

Despite a massive explosion in October, authorities say a state-owned launch pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility should be repaired and ready for testing late next year.

Recommended for you

First stars formed even later than previously thought

August 31, 2016

ESA's Planck satellite has revealed that the first stars in the Universe started forming later than previous observations of the Cosmic Microwave Background indicated. This new analysis also shows that these stars were the ...

Dawn sets course for higher orbit

August 31, 2016

After studying Ceres for more than eight months from its low-altitude science orbit, NASA's Dawn spacecraft will move higher up for different views of the dwarf planet.

Galaxy cluster discovered at record-breaking distance

August 31, 2016

A new record for the most distant galaxy cluster has been set using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes. This galaxy cluster may have been caught right after birth, a brief, but important stage of evolution ...

The rise and fall of galaxy formation

August 30, 2016

An international team of astronomers, including Carnegie's Eric Persson, has charted the rise and fall of galaxies over 90 percent of cosmic history. Their work, which includes some of the most sensitive astronomical measurements ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.