During NASA's second attempt at launching Antares rocket an explosion occured on the launch pad. There are no fatalities and limited damages to the facility.
An unmanned commercial rocket headed for the International Space Station to deliver supplies exploded just after launching Tuesday, filling the sky with a massive fireball.
The Antares rocket supplied by contractor Orbital Sciences blew up moments after liftoff at NASA's space launch facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, the space agency said.
The explosion destroyed the rocket and spacecraft and immediately raised questions about the future of NASA's reliance on private commercial ventures to carry vital payloads into space to supply and support the orbiting space station.
NASA and Orbital Sciences were gathering data to determine the cause of the failure of the Orbital CRS-3, the space agency said. No injuries were reported.
"There has been a vehicle anomaly," Orbital Sciences, the contractor supplying the rocket, said on its Twitter feed. It added later in a statement, "The vehicle suffered a catastrophic failure."
"It is far too early to know the details of what happened," said Frank Culbertson, Orbital's executive vice president and general manager of its Advanced Programs Group.
The rocket explosion at NASA's Wallops facility in Virginia was captured from 3,000 feet by Ed Sealing at Sealing Technologies Inc. VPC
"We will not fly until we understand the root cause," he said.
Culbertson said he believes the range-safety staff sent a destruct signal to the rocket after it encountered problems and before it hit the ground, but was not certain. Bill Wrobel, director of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, said crews were letting the fire burn out.
Shares of Orbital Sciences fell nearly 15% to $25.85 in the hours following the explosion.
The rocket had been scheduled for takeoff on Monday night, but the launch was postponed when a boat entered a hazard area down range.The launch was to have begun a fourth space station delivery for the Virginia-based Orbital Sciences.
Ed Sealing Jr., a pilot from Odenton, Md., was flying his small Cessna airplane with his father hoping to get a glimpse of the launch. He shot video with an iPad that shows what Sealing called two explosions, a small one followed by a bigger one.
"I'll be honest, I've never seen a rocket launched before,'' Sealing said. "And I still haven't.... It was definitely dramatic.''
Sealing said they were watching from 3,000 feet altitude and a couple miles outside the restricted air space around the launch facility.
"I just kind of thought, that's not right, something's wrong there,'' he said. "Then there was a second big explosion.''
The Antares rocket was scheduled to launch at 6:22 p.m. ET. The rocket was intended to propel the Cygnus vehicle, packed with 5,000 pounds of cargo, to rendezvous with the space station.
The company says no one was believed to be hurt and the damage appeared to be limited to the facilities. All people at the launch site are accounted for, NASA said.
Flames could be seen shooting into the sky as the sun set in video of the launch.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said in a statement that "spaceflight is inherently risky. As we push the frontiers of space there will be setbacks. But our commercial space ventures will ultimately be successful."
The Cygnus cargo ship was loaded with gear for the six people living on the space station. It was the fourth Cygnus bound for the orbiting lab; the first flew just over a year ago.
Among the cargo were more than a dozen student research projects, including an experiment from students at Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Houston to test the performance of pea shoot growth in space.
NASA is paying the Virginia-based Orbital Sciences and the California-based SpaceX company to keep the space station stocked in the post-shuttle era. This is the first disaster in that effort.
Orbital Sciences is contracted to conduct eight supply missions delivering 20 tons of material to the space station.
NASA said engineers from Orbital Sciences were not "tracking any issues" before the launch.
NASA said it is investigating the crash and collecting all telemetry and other data, along with the contractor.
The National Transportation Safety Board is monitoring, NASA said.