NASA meant to launch the Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft into space from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Tuesday. Also aboard the rocket was Redmond-based Planetary Resources’ first satellite, the Arkyd 3. But the unmanned rocket exploded 20 seconds after takeoff.
NASA called the explosion a “catastrophic anomaly.” It said launching is a tough business and that the explosion proved how difficult space exploration is, a lesson not lost on Planetary Resources.
“As this launch failure and history have demonstrated, spaceflight is inherently risky,” said Planetary Resources spokesperson Stacey Tearne in a statement. “The A3 is the first example of our strategy to ‘use space as our testbed,’ and to tolerate failures by building a success into the development path.”
Tearne said the explosion has not affected the company’s development schedule, and it will move forward in launching its second satellite in 2015.
“The A6 is Planetary Resources’ second demonstration vehicle in our spacecraft program,” Tearne said. “We have contracted with Spaceflight Services, Inc. to include the A6 in a rideshare configuration on an upcoming U.S. commercial launch vehicle, currently scheduled for launch in Q3 2015.”
The eventual goal for Arkyd satellites is to scout asteroids near earth for their mining potential. The Arkyd 3 was the first satellite the company built and would have collected data and run tests in space.
During a press conference following the explosion, Frank Culbertson, a general manager at Orbital Sciences Corp., reiterated that there were no injuries as a result of the explosion, only a loss of hardware that was “very valuable to our company and to our customers.”
NASA has not said what caused the explosion.
Here’s a recording of NASA’s press conference following the explosion.