The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is investigating the cause of the explosion of the Antares rocket with the US cargo spacecraft Cygnus during the blastoff from the Wallops Island launch facility in Virginia.
The unmanned Antares rocket exploded seconds after liftoff at 22:22 GMT on Monday (01:23am Moscow time on Tuesday).
The Cygnus, equipped with an AJ-26 engine, a rebuilt version of Soviet NK-33, was to deliver to the International Space Station (ISS) more than 2 tons of payload, including food, equipment and materials for scientific experiments.
Frank Culbertson, the vice president of the Orbital Sciences company that manufactured the Antares rocket, said at a press conference on Wednesday that an investigation board has been formed to determine the cause of the incident.
The Antares engine had earlier passed all the necessary testing, including in Russia, which found no problems, Culbertson said. “It is far too early to know the details of what happened,” the company’s statement also quoted Culbertson as saying. “We will conduct a thorough investigation immediately to determine the cause of this failure and what steps can be taken to avoid a repeat of this incident,” he said.
A team of experts is due to arrive on the island later on Wednesday.
Culbertson said the explosion has no harmful impact on the environment, as the Antares rocket was designed to burn a mixture of liquid oxygen and kerosene shortly after the launch.
The US space agency said in a statement NASA “will continue to move forward toward the next attempt once we fully understand today's mishap.”
The crew of the ISS, a $100 billion research laboratory owned and operated by 15 nations, is in no danger of running out of food or other critical supplies.