NASA and Orbital Sciences have both issued written press releases, giving updates on the situation on the ground at Wallops Flight Facility, following yesterday’s explosion of the Antares 130 rocket, which was to carry the Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station on a re-supply mission. The flight was unmanned, and all ground personnel are safe and accounted for. NASA has explained that the ISS crew is in no danger of running out of consumable supplies; in fact, the Russian craft Progress made a safe delivery to ISS earlier today. The next Space-X Dragon mission, which launches on December 9, 2014, may have its payload adjusted to compensate for some of the lost cargo from yesterday’s incident.
We do know that numerous experiments, including two from Jet Propulsion Labs, at least one from a group of public school students, and a test spacecraft from Planetary Resources were lost in the incident.
Chris Lewicki, chief asteroid miner at Planetary Resources said, “All of us appreciate the physical grit and emotional toll that went into the fabrication not only of the vehicle itself, but also from the many organizations who had payloads onboard. Our first Arkyd, a technology and system test platform (the Arkyd 3, or A3) was integrated on that rocket, which was destined for the International Space Station (ISS). The A3 was due to hibernate on the ISS for a few months until the crew deployed it into low-Earth orbit (LEO) out of the Japanese ‘Kibo’ airlock. Its mission was to space-test the avionics and controls systems, show us the strong points, failure points, and then burn-up in the atmosphere as its orbit slowly degraded back to Earth after about 90 days … We appreciate the support and well-wishes we’ve had pouring in from around the world, and want to remind everyone that the A3 was just a robot. We can and are building more, and we will live to fly another day. Onward!”
Orbital Science’s press release says, “Early this morning, range officials performed an aerial survey of the launch facilities and surrounding areas at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility where yesterday’s failure of the Antares rocket occurred after it lifted off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A. Shortly after, a team of representatives from NASA, MARS and Orbital entered the launch site to perform a preliminary assessment of the launch complex and related facilities. The overall findings indicate the major elements of the launch complex infrastructure, such as the pad and fuel tanks, avoided serious damage, although some repairs will be necessary. However, until the facility is inspected in greater detail in the coming days, the full extent of necessary repairs or how long they will take to accomplish will not be known.
“Also today, Orbital made progress forming a permanent Accident Investigation Board (AIB) comprised of company officials, along with representatives from NASA and the NTSB, with the FAA providing overall oversight of the process … Today, Orbital appointed Mr. Dave Steffy, Senior Vice President and Chief Engineer of the company’s Advanced Programs Group, a highly experienced engineer well-versed in launch vehicle engineering and operations, to serve as the permanent chairman of the AIB.”
In NASA’s press release, Bill Wroebel, the director of the Wallops facility said, “I want to praise the launch team, range safety, all of our emergency responders and those who provided mutual aid and support on a highly-professional response that ensured the safety of our most important resource — our people. In the coming days and weeks ahead, we’ll continue to assess the damage on the island and begin the process of moving forward to restore our space launch capabilities. There’s no doubt in my mind that we will rebound stronger than ever.”
The NASA press release continues, “The initial assessment is a cursory look; it will take many more weeks to further understand and analyze the full extent of the effects of the event. A number of support buildings in the immediate area have broken windows and imploded doors. A sounding rocket launcher adjacent to the pad, and buildings nearest the pad, suffered the most severe damage.
“The Wallops team also met with a group of state and local officials, including the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the Virginia Marine Police, and the U.S. Coast Guard.
“The Wallops environmental team also is conducting assessments at the site. Preliminary observations are that the environmental effects of the launch failure were largely contained within the southern third of Wallops Island, in the area immediately adjacent to the pad. Immediately after the incident, the Wallops’ industrial hygienist collected air samples at the Wallops mainland area, the Highway 175 causeway, and on Chincoteague Island. No hazardous substances were detected at the sampled locations. Additional air, soil and water samples will be collected from the incident area as well as at control sites for comparative analysis.
“The Coast Guard and Virginia Marine Resources Commission reported today they have not observed any obvious signs of water pollution, such as oil sheens. Furthermore, initial assessments have not revealed any obvious impacts to fish or wildlife resources. The Incident Response Team continues to monitor and assess.”
Once again, officials stress the importance of not picking up souvenirs from the area surrounding Wallops Island. Anyone who finds debris or damage to their property in the vicinity of the launch mishap is cautioned to stay away from it and call the Incident Response Team at 757-824-1295.
No additional press conferences are planned at this time, and additional information will come in the form of press releases. We’ll stay on top of the developing news, and keep you posted!