Almost a month ago, an unmanned cargo rocket carrying the Cygnus spaceship, which was loaded with supplies destined for the International Space Station, exploded. Now, new launchpad footage has been released, showing the dramatic malfunction up close.
The 140-foot Antares rocket, operated by Orbital Sciences Corp., blew up 15 seconds after lifting off on Oct. 28. No one was injured, but the $200 million-plus mission was a total loss.
"Just a few seconds after liftoff there was a failure in the first stage booster causing the rocket to lose power and head back to the launchpad leaving a fiery trail on its descent. On hitting the ground the rocket exploded in a huge fireball engulfing the launchpad and surrounding areas," AmericaSpace's video description stated.
"One of the cameras was right in the middle of the fireball, with chunks of broken rocket showering down around it," the description continued."
Watch the new launchpad footage, which combines video from four camera angles:
The blast not only incinerated the cargo — 2½ tons of space station food, clothes, equipment and science experiments dreamed up by schoolchildren — but dealt a setback to the commercial spaceflight effort championed by NASA and the White House even before the shuttle was retired.
It was the first failure after an unbroken string of successful commercial cargo flights to the space station since 2012 — three by Orbital and five by SpaceX, the other U.S. company hired by NASA to deliver supplies.
The company's board was still investigating the cause of the system failure earlier this month, but preliminary evidence suggested "a probable turbopump-related failure in one of the two Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ26 stage one main engines," a news release from Orbital Sciences stated.
The company also announced a new plan to upgrade the Antares propulsion system to ensure that all cargo is delivered to the ISS by 2016 under its contract with NASA.
“Orbital is taking decisive action to fulfill our commitments to NASA in support of safe and productive operations of the Space Station," Orbital CEO David Thompson said in a statement. "While [the] Antares failure was very disappointing to all of us, the company is already implementing a contingency plan to overcome this setback. We intend to move forward safely but also expeditiously to put our CRS cargo program back on track and to accelerate the introduction of our upgraded Antares rocket."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.