back to article KRAKKOOOM! Space Station supply mission in PODULE PRANG EXPLOSION CHAOS

Orbital Sciences just can't seem to catch a break. Monday's launch of its Antares rocket was scrubbed by a rogue sailboat and on Tuesday the rocket exploded just seconds after launching from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Antares rocket fails There has been a vehicle anomaly. We will update as soon as we are …

  1. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Is it the video or is my connection?

    I've watched this several times and the rocket lifts and then seems to hang on its tail fire before rising again. Around the 3:00 mark on the video. I'm also surprised to see buildings that close to the Launchpad but that could be compression from the telephoto lens.

    1. Bubba Von Braun

      Re: Is it the video or is my connection?

      Nope.. it doesn't stop at 3:00 if you watch the LOX vent it continues to move upwards, (the puff's coming off the side of the rocket)

      Not sure though most rockets cease venting to pressurize the propellant/oxidizer.. don't have Antares details, maybe that's the beginning of the failure, and overpressure in the oxidizer system. Have to go find footage of the previous Antares launch

      1. Bubba Von Braun

        Re: Is it the video or is my connection?

        ** Update**

        Just looked at the ORB-2 launch video and the venting occurs a couple of times on liftoff so nothing abnormal there then.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is it the video or is my connection?

      I'm interested to know why at 3:07 the exhaust brightens considerably, but appears to be still constrained in the proper downward direction. One second later the whole things explodes. So is that a throttle up? I'm not sure that it is: why wouldn't you want 100% thrust from the moment it leaves the launch pad? On the other hand I'd have thought that quite a lot of failures would result in flame going everywhere immediately rather than being constrained so.

      Notice the turbo pump blade disks spinning, spiralling away like some sort of firework? Pretty!

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: Is it the video or is my connection?

        Sounded like they were going for 108% thrust at the time - which is "normal".

        Full thrust from the rockets would destroy the launchpad (yes, I know this did some of that as well), as well as being possibly unstable for the vehicle. Ramping the throttle up allows for smoother flight.

  2. Bubba Von Braun

    Russian conspiracy?

    Looks like a classic engine failure on liftoff, looks like one failed and took out the other engine.

    Curious note, these engines supplied by AeroJet are the same as the Russian NK-33, Seems these engines like to perform as they did on the N1.. or is Vladimir having some fun at Orbitals expense ;-)

    1. Vulch

      Re: Russian conspiracy?

      Not just the same as, they're actual engines built for the N1 before it was cancelled that have been in storage ever since. Another one exploded on the test stand recently.

    2. boltar

      Re: Russian conspiracy?

      "r is Vladimir having some fun at Orbitals expense "

      Nah , just some indian engineers deciding to celibrate Diwali in a spectacular fashion.

      1. rh587 Silver badge

        Re: Russian conspiracy?

        Russians? No, I expect the gatehouse are busy checking the visitor logs for any contractors coming on site by the name of "Noel Smuk" or similar... speaking of which, who was that yacht registered to!?

    3. tmTM

      Re: Russian conspiracy?

      Orbital Sciences claim to have fully refurbished and updated the Russian engines.

      So it's unlikely the Russians sold them a dud as they've been totally rebuild and reworked by the OS lot.

  3. Rick Brasche

    And Elon Musk was nowhere near the area according to his press office

    however we still have unconfirmed reports of a Model S leaving the area at a high rate of speed emitting a maniacal laugh.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And Elon Musk was nowhere near the area according to his press office


      Although, in fact he doesn't have a problem with OSC. Right now it's Blue Origin that's the problem because of their patently obvious floating platform patent.

  4. Herbert Meyer

    just like the good old days.

    Ach, you young people do not remember how it was, back in the the beginning. Vanguard ? Polaris ? "I don't know if it will work on the Russians, but it sure kills gators well."

    Notify range safety, wait for the fires to go down, go out and look for dangerous debris: Thruster tanks, stage separation pyrotechnics, pressurization cylinders, destruct charges...

    1. xperroni

      Re: just like the good old days.

      Ach, you young people do not remember how it was, back in the the beginning.

      I do remember, but technology is supposed to move forward, yes? I mean, just as if I were to launch a new computer application today, and it came out filled with bugs and security holes


      1. Bubba Von Braun

        Re: just like the good old days.

        Ah but these motors at 1960's vintage... ex-surplus from the N1-F they are an awesome motor, and something the US has not been able to replicate.

        Most liquid motors are driven by a Turbo pump that itself uses some of the fuel/oxidizer. The exhaust is then dumped out the side as a vent near the main chamber. (see this footage for a clear picture of an open loop engine) these motors don't do they they put the exhaust stream into the combustion chamber increasing the efficiency. The Soviets overcame the metallurgy and other issues associated with doing this closed loop system. Result higher performance/weight and why Lockheed and AeroJet beat a path to their door. Atlas uses a different version but same concept a closed loop.

        1. TheOtherHobbes

          Re: just like the good old days.

          >The Soviets overcame the metallurgy and other issues associated with doing this closed loop system.

          Or not. "It's brilliant and it only blows up sometimes" is not an acceptable value for the mission_critical key.

          1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

            Re: just like the good old days.

            Or not. "It's brilliant and it only blows up sometimes" is not an acceptable value for the mission_critical key.

            It might be if you were Russian.

        2. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

          Re: just like the good old days.

          Turbopumps are notorious for being a failure point but it appears in this case either a nozzle or a fuel line has ruptured. Although the video is not of sufficient quality to say for sure but before the explosion there was a big flare up in the direction of the exhaust, which suggests that the fuel was still being supplied at pressure for a while but it was burning outside of containment.

        3. Brian Morrison

          Re: just like the good old days.

          The big difference with these NK33 closed cycle engines (like the Rocketdyne F1 and the SSME the turbopump exhaust reenters the combustion chamber) is that they run the turbopump oxidiser rich rather than fuel rich. This is much more efficient, but it has a side-effect that the turbopump casing can burn through very rapidly if something goes wrong. 1" of hardened steel lasts less than 100ms in these cases...

        4. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: just like the good old days.

          Pity that the Russians never really had a successful launch. As I recall, the lead designer had an easy chair on the launch pad to oversee everything prior to launch and then BANG! The thing blew up on the pad while fueling. Killed him and something 200 others also.

          There's a couple of vids out there on Youtube and if I'm remembering right, every launch stack blew up as some point before the second stage could fire. I might be wrong. Feel free to correct me and slap me upside the head.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: just like the good old days.

      Dangerous debris: You missed anything containing hydrazine, or likely to be contaminated with it.

      We have a couple of instruments sitting in a glass case at work that were dug out from 6 feet of French Guyanian swamp after the first Ariane 5 exploded.

      After falling 5 miles, being buried in that much mud, dug up and rinsed off by the French Foreign Legion, then sitting in storage for a decade - there are _still_ high enough levels of hydrazine contamination on them to make them unwise to handle without gloves.

      It's not the obvious stuff which turns out to kill you 5 years after the event.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: just like the good old days.

        Come on, Hydrazine isn't that bad, work with it all the time without any ... sorry, think I lost a piece of skin there ...

        1. corestore

          Re: just like the good old days.

          It's not your skin that's at risk. A tiny quantity of hydrazine will turn your liver off, permanently. Seriously nasty stuff.

        2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

          Re: just like the good old days.

          Hydrazine's nothing!

          I used to work with diazomethane. It's a very effective methylating agent in synthetic chemistry, but you can't use it anywhere near ground-glass joints as it has a purported habit of crystallizing onto them and exploding. Luckily I never experienced this. I did learn to keep a close eye on the thermometer to make sure the ether it's dissolved in stays cold though!

          Preparation instructions include the use of a blast shield, and as well as being explosive, the stuff is acutely and extremely toxic!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: just like the good old days.

      My high school physics teacher worked on the Polaris missile He had some hair raising, and funny, stories from then.

      1. John 110

        Re: just like the good old days.

        "...He had some hair raising,..."

        Still had hair then, couldn't have been too bad...

  5. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge


    "The astronauts aboard the space station won't be going hungry, however, since NASA has a policy of maintaining enough essentials on board to cover two resupply mission failures."

    But how long can they hold out re-reading old copys of the Daily Mail?

    1. emmanuel goldstein

      Re: Resupply

      those copies of the 'Daily Mail' are not for reading...

      1. Anomalous Cowturd

        Re: Resupply

        I can recommend "Nicki Elite". 3 ply, scented, and with aloe vera for added "Angels licking your ring piece clean" goodness!

        Two quid for nine rolls at your local "Home Bargains" shop.

        Beats the pants (literally) off your Andrex / Nouvelle over-priced rubbish.

        Your arse-hole will thank me for this information! :o) 'specially after a decent Ruby!

    2. Vulch

      Re: Resupply

      There was a Progress launch due around ten past seven this morning. They might just have had time to get a few copies of said Newspaper Shaped Object on board.

    3. boltar

      Re: Resupply

      "But how long can they hold out re-reading old copys of the Daily Mail?"

      Don't worry - they gave them a paper that prints the same old biased naive lefty rubbish every single day so they'll only ever require 1 copy and can just insert different names for people or corporations that the Guardian staff think are this weeks enemies of the revolution and so get the latest stories!

  6. Blofeld's Cat


    That looks similar to the 2 March 1965 launch of an Atlas-Centaur rocket, which fell back and completely wrecked launch pad LC-36A at Cape Canaveral.

    I suspect nothing will be launched from LP-0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport for some time.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Good thing they waited for the sailboat to get out of range.

  8. Robert Heffernan

    Relevant YouTube Clip

  9. Lars Silver badge

    Vehicle anomaly

    The way your wife would explain wrecking the car, (in a cartoon). Still I would not blame the Russians, they have made extremely fine engines and as a Finnish General once said, if there are more than two moving parts in a Russian engine it will break and in a rocket engine there are less,

    Joke alert, but only partly.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Vehicle anomaly

      "American equipment, Russian equipment, all made in Taiwan!"

  10. Number6


    Eight days early for the big firework display, at least in the UK.

  11. Winkypop Silver badge


    Is a bitch.

    Nice to watch its effects though...

  12. Matto in AUS


    They are indeed tricky, it would seem.

    1. D@v3

      Re: Rockets

      yeah, but it's hardly brain surgery

  13. Vinyl-Junkie

    I know exactly who to blame....

    To the person who commented yesterday asking why they couldn't launch yesterday even though there was a yacht in the area "after all, what are the chances of a misfire?" I hope you realise: THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!! :)

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: I know exactly who to blame....

      Yes, I do. I apologise to all and sundry for my rash comment.

      Excuse me while I depart for my volcanic lair....

  14. Anonymous Coward

    I still don't get why they can't get it right....'s not like it's rocket scien...Oh wait.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. N1

    Um.. Possible but more likely fuel debris caused massive leak and puddling resulted in explosion.

    The engine wasnt the problem AFAICT.

  16. RyokuMas Silver badge

    To quote John Glenn

    "Glad they got that one out the way!"

  17. hammarbtyp Silver badge

    So it wasn't supposed to do that then?

    There has been a vehicle anomaly

    Really?!! You think?

    I just thought July 4th/November 5th/<inser celebration of your choice> had come early

    Top award for stating the bleeding obvious....

    1. Someone Else Silver badge

      Re: So it wasn't supposed to do that then?

      Perhaps when you translate from CYA-marketing-speak to English, that would come out as:

      There has been an epic fail

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        Re: So it wasn't supposed to do that then?

        Obviously, a major malfunction...

  18. khisanth

    The guy narrating also mentioned something about secure documents on board and for everyone to secure their workstations and files.

  19. monkeyfish

    Won't anyone think of the scientists?!

    But the failure isn't just bad news for the company itself. It's much, much worse for those researchers and scientists who had cargo aboard the rocket. Some of these experiments have taken years to devise, obtain funding for, get accepted for the mission, and then package for orbital transfer. All that effort is now destroyed.

    Given the likelihood of rocket failure, you'd be pretty dumb not to build at least one backup of your equipment, surely?

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Won't anyone think of the scientists?!

      I suppose that the biggest effort goes into design and getting everyone to sign off the exact shape of gimmick X.

      Production? Piddles.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Won't anyone think of the scientists?!

      "Given the likelihood of rocket failure, you'd be pretty dumb not to build at least one backup of your equipment, surely?"

      Sure they'll just dig out the couple of million quid from the back of the sofa.

    3. Lamont Cranston

      Re: Won't anyone think of the scientists?!

      Can't they get insurance cover for this sort of thing?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Won't anyone think of the scientists?!

        Can't they get insurance cover for this sort of thing?

        Yes and no, it's so expensive it's just not worth it.

        Bit like Curry's pc insurance. The one that costs you £100 a year to insure a £200 pc for years 2 & 3 i.e. when it's worth £50

    4. Jolyon Ralph

      Re: Won't anyone think of the scientists?!

      >But the failure isn't just bad news for the company itself.

      But on the other hand, NASA must be delighted with the number of YouTube views they're getting

  20. BrazzaB

    Engine Anomaly

    Notice that the vehicle drifts to the right on takeoff. This indicates reduced thrust on one of the engines, which leads to that 'catastrophic failure' that NASA talks about.

    1. Bubba Von Braun

      Re: Engine Anomaly

      Look at the ORB-2 flight liftoff footage, it also shows a movement to the left of frame on liftoff. The guidance system would compensate for asymmetric thrust by gimbaling the engine, to maintain the desired direction of flight. Will be interesting to see what actually occurred.

    2. Uncle Ron

      Re: Engine Anomaly

      I have watched two other Antares launches and they all seem to have this side-step right after lift-off. Very unnerving and seems wrong. Might be an artifact of having only two engines vs 5 for Saturn V and 9 for SpaceX thing. Thrust vectoring is more difficult with just 2. Anyway, it doesn't seem like an "anomaly."

  21. Alistair Silver badge

    "Vehicle Anomaly"

    Doesn't matter to me much who's equipment or tools, these are always very sad events, and the nice part is that, long run, we learn stuff from the analysis. Sad event, yes, but it will have a lesson embedded in the analysis, and we'll get just that little bit better.

    Time to dig out the "long form" and start the investigation. Might want to wait till the temperatures drop down a bit though...

    (Some days I wish I was part of the investigations on things like this -- ..... I must be weird)

    (Beer for some very long nights ahead of the folks that will be doing the work)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Vehicle Anomaly"

      ... and the nice part is that, long run, we learn stuff from the analysis ...

      Yeah; hindsight's a bitch.

  22. FuzzyTheBear

    To the left

    If you look at the video the left side about halfways up , you see bizarre puffs of smoke and repeating little flashes and kind of a flare going downwards .. hard to explain . If someone in the know reads , would be interresting to have your input on what goes on on that side.

  23. lampbus

    It is sad to see - lots of people work really hard to make these things happen.

    Spacex have had their near misses too -

    I was watching this live and thought...hmm, that 90 degree roll at launch dosn't look healthy.

    This Antares launch looked slightly odd right from the start - to me it seems like the hot end drifts slightly to the left (towards the launch tower) at release, then corrects a couple of seconds later, but it is hard to tell as the camera is moving a bit too.

    1. Brian Morrison

      The 90 degree roll is probably to align the guidance platform to the required trajectory. Saturn and Shuttle did exactly this.

  24. Dick Pountain

    This "xxxx anomaly" trope is now likely to enter the language I'm afraid: the Krakatoa Vulcanism Anomaly, the Hiroshima U235 Anomaly and the Sept 11th Trade Center Anomaly.

    1. Someone Else Silver badge

      Along with "an abundance of caution"...

  25. Greg D


    That... didn't escalate quickly.

  26. Adrian Taylor

    psst! over here mate, I've got some old soviet rocket engines, about 100 of em, in a warehouse, all lovely runners, built in the late sixties or early seventies. They'd look spiffing on your new launch vehicle, just bolt a couple of em on, and job done..... what? they exploded ? you must be mistaken, I'm sure they're just sleeping...

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Right now, a number of scientists in India are having a right old giggle...

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm surprised NASA/Orbital Sciences even bothered to secure the consoles, let alone instigate an accident investigation - they must have known all they had to do was log on here the next day to find out from the experts what went wrong.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      find out from the experts

      Ooh get her - bitch, just because you're not an El Reg rocket scientist doesn't mean you get to snark about them. I may not know my hydrogen peroxide from my UDMH, but the site that supports LOHAN must surely be the go-to for rocket expertise. You're just jealous.

  29. cray74

    In the absence of outside involvement, I'd guess that Orbital dusts off the wreckage and tries again in a while. Its got a contract and I'm sure its got insurance. However, Elon Musk has been trying to block Rooskie engines in US rockets and this would be his chance to push a little harder to knock out a competitor, maybe two if he can block the Atlas V over its engines. (Nicely commiserative tweet he sent to Orbital, though.)

  30. Stevie Silver badge


    Okay, lesson learned: Move the Self Destruct button further away from the elbows of the guy working the Bring On The Awesome lever.

  31. DaveCummings

    Engineers during launch/....

    ...... oh **** i forgot to carry the 1, cant be THAT important....can it?

  32. Anonymous John

    Second stage engine problems aren't that rare. One left two GPS satellites in the wrong orbit earlier this year. SpaceX had one on one resupply mission. It reached the ISS as planned but left a satellite (secondary mission) in the wrong place. I don't see why first stage failures should be rarer, but they do seem to be.

    Obviously they can be more spectacular and cause damage to the launch site, but that doesn't mean that the cause of the problem is more serious.

    1. Vulch

      The SpaceX one was a first stage problem. They lost an engine on the way up so the other 8 ran longer, that left everything in slightly the wrong position so they couldn't do the second burn after the Dragon separated to get the Orbcomm secondary payload in the right orbit.

      First stage engine problems aren't unusual, but they frequently show up before the rocket has left the ground so everything gets shut down and can be fixed.

      1. Anonymous John

        I stand corrected as regards to the SpaceX issue. But I said first stage engine failure, not problem. I should probably have said catastrophic.

  33. intrigid

    Why do the play-by-play announces ALWAYS downplay these?

    "There has been an anomaly. We will investigate this technical difficulty and get back to you..."

    The goddamned rocket just blew up right in front of your face! Why don't they just say so? Are they afraid to look like fools because the rocket might to rise out of the fireball and make it to space after all?

    Just ONCE I would like to hear the announcer say what's actually going on (in the calm pilot's voice of course)...

    "Aaaaand there's been an explosion. ..... This is a .... catastrophic failure. ....... The rocket has crashed into the ground...... My, how unfortunate...... This is obviously an. ..... aborted mission."

    1. Bill B

      Re: Why do the play-by-play announces ALWAYS downplay these?


      "Ohhhhh f***k"

    2. Vulch

      Re: Why do the play-by-play announces ALWAYS downplay these?

      Because the console operators usually only have screenfuls of numbers to look at, all they see is that the information they're getting is very odd or has stopped.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. find out from the experts

    Apologies, I was referring to the *original* N1 where a fuel leak caused all the motors to shut down because a fire was detected.

    Similar problem might have happened here but looking again at the footage it appears that an unexpected engine shutdown caused the problem.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    2 resupply failures - ok so we're half way there.

    Why don't they courier the stuff over to SpaceX and let them continue doing a good job? I remember the time NASA meant 100% success.

    After Columbia barely 33.33333333(recurring)%...

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