Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Crashes During Test Flight Over Mojave Desert – Huffington Post

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo space plane crashed during a test flight over California’s Mojave Desert this afternoon, the company said.

A report issued by the California Highway Patrol indicated that one pilot died and another suffered a major injury, the Associated Press reported. At a press conference on Friday afternoon, Kern County Sheriff’s spokesman Ray Pruitt said that the injured pilot had ejected from the craft, and was “doing as well as can be expected” at the hospital.

The company said White Knight Two, the jet-powered craft used to launch the space plane, landed safely. The debris field from the space plane covered several miles, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said. Mojave Air and Space Port CEO Stuart Witt said at the press conference that flight crews had “detected nothing that appeared abnormal” before the crash. “The test community is very small. We are human, and it hurts,” CEO of Mojave Air and Space Port said of the incident.

The NTSB would be sending a team to investigate the incident, Kyle Harvey of Bakersfield Now reported.

More details from the Associated Press:

The accident occurred just as it seemed space flights were near, after a period of development that lasted far longer than hundreds of prospective passengers had expected.

When Virgin Group licensed the technology from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who funded about $ 26 million for SpaceShipOne, Branson envisioned operating flights by 2007. In interviews last month, he talked about the first flight being next spring with his son.

“It’s a real setback to the idea that lots of people are going to be taking joyrides into the fringes of outer space any time soon,” said John Logsdon, retired space policy director at George Washington University. “There were a lot of people who believed that the technology to carry people is safely at hand.”

Friday’s flight marked the 55th for SpaceShipTwo, which was intended to be the first of a line of craft. But this was only the fourth flight to be powered by a rocket. During the other flights, the craft was either not released from its mother ship or it functioned as a glider.

SpaceShipTwo was designed to provide a suborbital thrill ride into space before returning to Earth as a glider. At 60 feet long, it featured two large windows for each of up to six passengers, one on the side and one overhead.

The cause of the accident was not immediately known. One difference on this flight was the type of fuel being used.

In May, Virgin Galactic announced that SpaceShipTwo would switch to a polymide-based fuel — a type of thermoplastic. It had been fueled with a type of rubber called HTPB.

Scaled Composites, the company that is building the spaceship for Virgin Galactic, had extensively tested the new fuel formulation on the ground, President Kevin Mickey said. He said the rocket motor configuration had not changed on this flight and characterized the new fuel as “a small nuance to the design.”

Officials said they had not noticed anything wrong before the flight.

“I detected nothing that appeared abnormal,” said Stuart Witt, CEO of the Mojave Air and Space Port.

Virgin Galactic — owned by Branson’s Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS of Abu Dhabi — sells seats on each prospective journey for $ 250,000, with full payment due at the time of booking. The company says that “future astronauts,” as it calls customers, have visited Branson’s Caribbean home, Necker Island, and gone through G-force training.

Stephen Hawking, Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher and Russell Brand are among the celebrities to sign up for flights. Virgin Galactic reports taking deposits totaling more than $ 80 million from about 700 people.

A related venture, The Spaceship Co., is responsible for building Virgin Galactic’s space vehicles.

During testing for the development of a rocket motor for SpaceShipTwo in July 2007, an explosion at the Mojave spaceport killed three workers and critically injured three others. A California Division of Occupational Safety and Health report said the blast occurred three seconds after the start of a cold-flow test of nitrous oxide — commonly known as laughing gas — which is used in the propulsion system of SpaceShipTwo. The engine was not firing during that test.

Friday’s accident was the second this week involving private space flight. On Tuesday, an unmanned commercial supply rocket bound for the International Space Station exploded moments after liftoff from a launch site in Virginia.

Virgin Galactic had planned to launch space tourism flights from the quarter-billion-dollar Spaceport America in southern New Mexico once it finished developing its rocket ship.

Christine Anderson, executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, did not want to comment on the events unfolding Friday in the California desert or what effect they might have on Spaceport America and the future of commercial space travel.

Virgin Galactic is in line to be the main tenant at the spaceport that was built specifically to launch paying customers into space, a dream of Branson’s. His company has repeatedly pushed back the timetable for when the $ 250,000 flights were to begin, pointing to delays in development and testing of the rocket ship.

Taxpayers footed the bill to build the state-of-the-art hangar and runway in a remote stretch of desert in southern New Mexico as part of a plan devised by Branson and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Critics have long challenged the state’s investment, questioning whether flights would ever get off the ground.

SpaceShipTwo is based on aerospace design maverick Burt Rutan’s award-winning SpaceShipOne prototype, which became the first privately financed manned rocket to reach space in 2004.

“It’s an enormously sad day for a company,” Burt Rutan told The Associated Press in a call from his home in Idaho, where he lives since retiring.

virgin galactic plane
Debris from Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo after its crash in the Mojave Desert. Courtesy of KABC.

spaceshiptwo 3
In this image from video by KABC-TV Los Angeles, a rescue crew carries a person on a stretcher to a waiting helicopter near the scene of a crash of the SpaceShipTwo in Southern California’s Mojave Desert on Friday, Oct. 31, 2014.


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Deadly explosion of Virgin Galactic spaceship rattles budding industry – Washington Post

The world’s first spaceship designed for tourists exploded in midair and crashed to the floor of the Mojave Desert on Friday, killing one test pilot, severely injuring another, and leaving the young industry of commercial space rattled and heart­broken.

SpaceShipTwo was supposed to become a shuttle to space for Virgin Galactic, the company founded by celebrity entrepreneur Richard Branson.

It was an elegant spacecraft, with a narrow body and flashy wings, and it had been handcrafted in a hangar at the Mojave Air and Space Port, about 95 miles north of Los Angeles. The company had hoped to start commercial flights soon, rocketing passengers above the atmosphere at a ticket price of up to $ 250,000 a seat.

It was unclear what Friday’s disaster will do to those ambitions or to the fledgling industry that has grown up around the desert town of Mojave. For commercial space, this day will be akin to what happened to NASA in 1967 when the Apollo 1 spacecraft had a capsule fire, killing three astronauts, during a launch test.

“Space is hard. And today was a tough day,” said a visibly shaken George Whitesides, the chief executive of Virgin Galactic and a former chief of staff at NASA.

SpaceShipTwo falls to Earth

The company offered no explanation for the disaster, which is being investigated by federal aviation officials. This was the fourth powered flight of the spaceship, all at relatively low altitudes, well within the atmosphere. But it was the first powered flight since January. It used a new fuel mix that had been tested on the ground successfully, said Kevin Mickey, president of Scaled Composites, which built the vehicle for Virgin Galactic.

“Ignition! #SpaceShipTwo is flying under rocket power again. Stay tuned for updates,” Virgin Galactic tweeted at 1:07 p.m. Pacific time.

But soon thereafter came the ominous follow-up: “#SpaceShipTwo has experienced an in-flight anomaly.”

The spacecraft was found ripped apart, in large fragments, amid the sagebrush on the desert floor.

“From my eyes and my ears, I detected nothing that appeared abnormal,” Stuart Witt, the Mojave Air and Space Port’s chief executive, said of the launch at a news conference Friday afternoon. He later added, “If there was a huge explosion that occurred, I didn’t see it.”

A photographer captured images, carried by CNN, showing the spacecraft firing its rocket engine and then, moments later, disintegrating amid a white cloud of vapor or smoke and leaving a trail of debris in the blue desert sky.

This has been a terrible week for commercial space in general: An Antares rocket, topped by a Cygnus capsule loaded with supplies for the International Space Station, exploded Tuesday night seconds after liftoff from a launchpad at Wallops Island, Va. Investigators from NASA and Orbital Sciences Corp., the Dulles, Va., company that owned the rocket and had a contract for multiple cargo missions to the space station, continue to look into the incident.

As bad as that explosion was, the crash of SpaceShipTwo was a greater tragedy, taking the life of a pilot who as of late Friday had not been identified. His body was found inside the wreckage, the Associated Press reported. A second pilot ejected and was found at the crash site by emergency teams, who took him to Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, Calif. His condition and identity had not been made public late Friday.

The crash was a devastating blow to the most high-profile start-up devoted to space tourism.

Virgin Galactic has been hoping to be the pioneer of space tourism, taking customers nearly 70 miles above Earth’s surface on short, suborbital flights. There is no absolute edge to space, because the atmosphere thins gradually, but it is generally agreed that such an altitude, where space appears black, easily qualifies.

For many years, the company has been promising that it is getting close to commercial operation, but it has faced a series of delays because of technical issues — not an uncommon problem in spaceflight.

SpaceShipTwo was designed by the legendary engineer Burt Rutan, who founded Scaled Composites in Mojave, a rustic town near Edwards Air Force Base. It is a part of the country known for historic aviation feats, among them pilot Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier in 1947.

A smaller predecessor to the craft, SpaceShipOne, became the first private spacecraft to reach space in 2004. Scaled Composites is no stranger to tragedy, having suffered a hangar explosion in 2007 in Mojave that killed three people and critically injured three others.

A person who answered the phone at Rutan’s home said no one could comment.

“We’re going to get through it,” Whitesides said at the news conference. “The future rests in many ways on hard, hard days like this. But we believe we owe it to the folks who were flying these vehicles as well as the folks who’ve been working so hard on them to understand this and to move forward, which is what we’ll do.”

SpaceShipTwo was an eight-seat craft, including two seats for the pilots. The vehicle was not designed to launch like a conventional rocket or space shuttle. Instead, it rode to an altitude of about nine miles underneath a jet-powered carrier plane, the WhiteKnightTwo. That craft then dropped the winged spaceship, which would glide for a few seconds before its rocket engine would fire. The company planned to use that rocket thrust to eventually go all the way to space.

The spaceship would then glide back to Earth and land on a runway. The beginning of commercial service has been continuously pushed back, but the company had said such flights could become a reality in 2015.

Branson had vowed to fly on the first flight and take his son along. The company said that the British tycoon was en route to Mojave.

“This will inject a note of sobriety into the enthusiasm of those who would like the spaceflight experience,” said John Logsdon, professor emeritus at George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute. “There was a whole juggernaut of ground training and private spaceports that were being set up to support an emerging space tourism industry, with a collective burst of maybe unrealistic expectations. This will certainly throw cold water on that.”

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) released a statement saying he was deeply saddened by the death of the pilot. “This has been a tragic week for our commercial space sector,” he added.

Charles Lurio, the publisher of a newsletter about the commercial space industry, compared Friday’s test-flight disaster with the incidents that cost hundreds of people their lives in the early years of aviation.

“I hope people understand that in order to make progress in certain areas, you have to take certain risks,” Lurio said. “This is why we need more than one or two companies trying things out, and why we need people willing to test things on the ground.”

At the Voyager Airport Restaurant, a diner in the spaceport right under the control tower, employees said they were stunned to learn of the explosion.

“It’s very, very sad,” said owner Joudi Alsaady. “I guess that’s part of life. If you want to reach the stars, you’ve got to pay the price sometime.”

Abby Phillip, Mark Berman and Sarah Larimer contributed to this report.

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Pennsylvania Police: Eric Frein Was Dedicated to Killing Cops –

By M. Alex Johnson

After a 48-day manhunt, suspected cop killer Eric Frein was captured Thursday in Pennsylvania and carted away in the handcuffs used by one of his alleged State Police victims. Prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty.

Col. Frank Noonan, commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police, said Frein, 31, was captured without incident about 6 p.m. ET at the abandoned Birchwood Pocono Airpark in Tannersville, in the Poconos resort region. A rifle and a pistol were found inside a hangar, law enforcement said.

Frein was taken by surprise and was in “surprisingly good condition” after so many weeks in the wild, Noonan said. He admitted his identity and was turned over to the State Police.

Frein is accused of killing State Police Cpl. Bryon Dickson and wounding Trooper Alex Douglass in an ambush on the Blooming Grove barracks on Sept. 12. Police found a diary entry, his AK-47, two homemade pipe bombs and several campsites, they but hadn’t been able to capture him until Thursday.

A police caravan drove Frein on Thursday night to the State Police barracks at Blooming Grove, the alleged scene of the crime, where he was awaiting arraignment on a slew of charges, including first-degree murder, homicide of a law enforcement officer, attempted murder and possession of weapons of mass destruction. Noonan said there was no indication that Frein had an accomplice or help during his time on the run.

“He was handcuffed with the handcuffs of Corporal Dickson, which I think was very appropriate,” Gov. Tom Corbett said at a late-night news conference. “Let me assure you from everyone here: Justice will be served.”

Image: Eric Frein in custodyCourtesy WBRE

Suspected cop killer Eric Frein in custody Thursday.

Noonan said the manhunt took so long because “it was such a big wooded area that he was familiar with, and he had so many places to hide in.” Search teams had to be very methodical because “Eric Frein had a mission, and that was to attack law enforcement.” There was concern that had Frein made it out of the woods, “he’d go after other law enforcement and possibly civilians,” Noonan said.

In his diary, Frein — a military reenactment buff and survivalist — described how he fled in his Jeep but got only a half-mile before he encountered a roadblock.

“Got a shot around 11 p.m. and took it,” he wrote in an entry dated Sept. 12. “He dropped. I was surprised at how quick. I took a follow-up shot on his head, neck area. He was still and quiet after that.

“Another cop approached the one I just shot,” Frein continued. “As he went to kneel, I took a shot at him and jumped in the door. His legs were visible and still.”

At one campsite uncovered by search teams on the border of Pike and Monroe counties early this month, authorities found military-style packs, food, clothing, the two pipe bombs and .380-caliber ammunition that matched the weapon used to shoot the two troopers. Many of the items police found during the manhunt — including soiled diapers and trash — tested positive for Frein’s DNA, they said.

As many as 1,000 local, state and federal law enforcement officers eventually joined the search.

“I can’t think of a more dangerous occupation then going into the woods to capture this individual,” Noonan said. “And yet, my biggest problem was telling people I didn’t need any more help.”

In addition to the trooper shootings, Frein is charged with two counts of manufacturing weapons of mass destruction after the pipe bombs were found. The shrapnel-packed pipe bombs were booby-trapped with trip wires and could have caused serious injury to anyone nearby, authorities said.



Michael Kosnar and Jonathan Dienst of NBC News contributed to this report.

First published October 30 2014, 3:43 PM

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Plane Crashes Into Building at Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita –

A small airplane plowed into a flight safety center at an airport in Kansas after losing engine power on takeoff Thursday, killing at least four four people, injuring five and leaving four others missing, officials said.

The twin-engine Beechcraft King Air reported trouble after taking off from Mid-Content Airport in Wichita around 10 a.m. ET. It hit a two-story FlightSafety International building while trying to return to the runway, the Federal Aviation Administration said. The crash sent up thick plumes of black smoke that could be seen for miles.

“There wasn’t a loud bang, there wasn’t a loud pop. It just sounded like something falling off a truck,” Jaison Podkanowicz, who says he works near the airport, told NBC News. He said he saw the airplane “just sitting on the top of the building on fire” as “black, hazy smoke” hung in the air.

Justin Camp, who works in another building at the airport, said he did not hear the crash but saw “a bunch of billowing black smoke.” About five minutes later, he drove to the FlightSafety complex. “We could see the wheels hanging off the end of the building,” he said. “There was a lot of running around and confusion.”

Four people were dead, five were injured, and four other people were missing just before 2 p.m. ET, said Brad Crisp, the Wichita Fire Department Fire Marshal. A search for the missing people was halted at midday after a part of the building collapsed, making it too dangerous for crews to go inside, he said.

Wichita Fire Chief Ron Blackwell said only the pilot was on the airplane. Valerie Wise, an airport spokeswoman, said “approximately” 100 people were in the FlightSafety building at the time of the crash.

FAA investigators were at the scene and the National Transportation Safety Board was notified of the crash.

This is a breaking news story. Please refresh this page for updates.

Daniel Arkin, Jay Blackman and Tracy Connor

First published October 30 2014, 8:15 AM

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Quarantine showdown looms for Ebola nurse Kaci Hickox, Maine officials – Fox News

A quarantine showdown looms today for Ebola nurse Kaci Hickox, who vowed to defy orders from Maine health officials to remain in her home until she can prove she is free of the disease following a stint performing aid work in west Africa.

State officials are seeking a court order to detain Kaci Hickox for the remainder of the 21-day incubation period for Ebola that ends on Nov. 10. While the request is pending, state police say they plan to monitor Hickox’s movements and interactions, but cannot take her into custody without a judge’s permission. 

Hickox, accompanied by her boyfriend, Ted Wilbur, met with the media late Wednesday in the driveway of her home in Fort Kent, and said she will not observe the quarantine directive. The nurse, who returned from Sierra Leone last week after working with Doctors Without Borders, said that she had made no progress in her attempts to negotiate an end to her quarantine with state officials.

If a judge grants the state request, then Hickox will appeal the decision on constitutional grounds, necessitating a hearing, Hickox attorney Norman Siegel said.

“I’m not willing to stand here and let my civil rights be violated when it’s not science-based,” Hickox said. She contends there’s no need for her to be quarantined because she’s showing no symptoms of Ebola.

The Portland Press Herald reported that Hickox appeared healthy and spoke calmly. At one point, she shook the hand of a British reporter who offered to do so after she stated that she did not have the virus and denied being contagious.

“You could hug me. You could shake my hand. I would not give you Ebola,” Hickox told the man.

The Press Herald reported that Wilbur had checked with state police before Hickox emerged from the house to ensure that she would not be arrested before she spoke.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who instituted the 21-day quarantine order Monday, has canceled campaign events to keep tabs on the situation. He maintains that the state must be “vigilant” to protect others.

Maine law allows a judge to grant temporary custody of someone if health officials demonstrate “a clear and immediate public health threat.” Generally, states have broad authority when it comes to such matters. But Maine health officials could have a tough time convincing a judge that Hickox poses a threat.

“If somebody isn’t showing signs of the infection, then it’s kind of hard to say someone should be under mandatory quarantine,” attorney Jackie L. Caynon III, who specializes in health law in Worcester, Massachusetts, told the Associated Press. 

Earlier Wednesday, Hickox told NBC’s “Today” that she doesn’t “plan on sticking to the guidelines” and is “appalled” by the home quarantine policies “forced” on her.

Ebola, which is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, has killed thousands of people in Africa, but only four people have been diagnosed with it in the United States. People can’t be infected just by being near someone who’s sick, and people aren’t contagious unless they’re sick, health officials say.

Guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend daily monitoring for health care workers like Hickox who have come into contact with Ebola patients. But some states like Maine are going above and beyond those guidelines.

The defense department is going even further. On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered military men and women helping fight Ebola to undergo 21-day quarantines that start upon their return — instead of their last exposure to an Ebola patient.

President Barack Obama warned that overly restrictive measures imposed upon returning health care workers could discourage them from volunteering in Africa.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Nightengale: Giants win World Series with a 1-man rotation – USA TODAY

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Go ahead, try to copy the San Francisco Giants’ blueprint to win World Series championships.

The Giants did it again Wednesday night, capturing their third World Series in the past five years with a 3-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals in a thrilling Game 7 at Kauffman Stadium.

The Giants’ path to victory has been a little different each year, but this title was the most unconventional. How do you win a World Series with a one-man starting rotation who moonlights in middle relief in the biggest game of the season?

The Royals brought all of their World Series heroes from 1985 for support, but they were in awe as was everyone else, watching Madison Bumgarner win the title almost singlehandedly.

Bumgarner, who has the lowest ERA in World Series history at 0.26, again took the Giants on his back, carrying them to the title.

Bumgarner won Game 1, pitched a shutout in Game 5 and came into relief in the fifth inning in Game 7 and gave the Giants five shutout innings. He was so efficient on two days’ rest that he retired six of the eight batters he faced on four or less pitches.

Bumgarner became only the third pitcher in World Series history to pitch in relief after a shutout, and the last since Randy Johnson of the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks.

And just like that, the Giants became the first National League team since the St. Louis Cardinals nearly 70 years ago to win three titles in a five-year span.

The Giants’ title defied logic, considering they spent the entire postseason with one reliable starting pitcher.

The big dude from North Carolina yielded a 0.56 ERA in his six postseason starts, while the rest of the rotation was smacked around for a 9.35 ERA.

Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy, in the Giants’ two biggest games of the season, lasted a total of nine outs in Games 6 and 7.

And the Giants somehow were able to laugh about it while pouring champagne over one another.

Surely, Giants manager Bruce Bochy thought he must have been seeing ghosts.

It was the first time that two starters couldn’t get out of the second inning since Ed Whitson and Tim Lollar for the 1984 San Diego Padres in Games 2 and 3.

Bochy happened to be a catcher on that team.

Hudson, who waited 16 years for this opportunity, was provided a two-run cushion with a pair of sacrifice flies in the second inning, but it took just five batters for him to give it right back. Bochy could no longer watch, yanking Hudson after five outs, and just like that, Hudson had the shortest outing by a Game 7 starting pitcher since Bob Turley of the New York Yankees in 1960.

Yet, it simply allowed the Giants to make more history. Only three teams have won a Game 7 with a shorter outing by their starting pitcher, the last by Spec Shea for the Yankees in 1947.

Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie wasn’t a whole lot better, lasting just 31/3 innings when he was removed for Kelvin Herrera.

It was the first time in Game 7 history that neither starter lasted 10 outs, throwing a total of 77 pitches and turning the game into the battle of the glorious bullpens.

Bochy, a master of the bullpen, was brilliant in his decision making yet again.

Jeremy Affeldt, who has pitched 22 scoreless outings in the postseason, just one shy of Mariano Rivera’s record, came in for Hudson in the second inning, and was sensational.

He was a ground-ball machine, giving up just one hit in his 21/3-inning appearance. It was his longest outing since July 18, 2012, and extended his shutout skein to 231/3 innings.

Certainly, he had the right guys playing defense behind him, with rookie second baseman Joe Panik responsible for two double plays — including one that may have been the difference in the game.

Eric Hosmer, with Lorenzo Cain on first base after a leadoff single, ripped a sharp grounder headed towards right-center field. Panik dove, snared the ball as it came up on a big hop, and flipped the ball with his glove to shortstop Brandon Crawford. Crawford fired to first, and Hosmer slid into first base, ahead of the throw.

The throw actually beat Hosmer, but unlike Don Denkinger 29 years ago, first-base umpire Eric Cooper had the benefit of instant replay. The call was challenged by Bochy, and after 2 minutes, 47 seconds, Hosmer was called out, delaying one of the finest World Series double plays you’ll ever see.

The rest of the night belonged to Bumgarner and the two bullpens, who refused to budge, putting up zero after zero.

And Bumgarner, who making only his fourth career relief appearance, stood tall the entire night.

Despite having pitched more innings (522/3) that any pitcher in postseason history, he was almost flawless, looking like the finest middle reliever you’ll ever see.

He gave up a leadoff single to Omar Infante in the fifth inning, and then not another baserunner the rest of the way.

And this morning, the people of San Francisco will get ready for another parade.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale



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Obama: Ebola aid a ‘shining example of what America means to the world’ – Los Angeles Times

President Obama sharpened his criticism Wednesday of anyone who would treat healthcare workers returning from West Africa less than respectfully and urged Americans to embrace them as heroes for fighting Ebola.

Standing before doctors in white lab coats, Obama called the healthcare workers “American heroes” for their willingness to travel to the “front line” to try to contain the disease at its source.

Russia Delivers Cargo to Space Station After US Setback –

A robotic Russian supply ship delivered nearly 3 tons of cargo to the International Space Station on Wednesday, just hours after a commercial U.S. rocket exploded while attempting a similar mission.

The robotic Progress 57 spacecraft blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan atop a Russian Soyuz rocket at 3:09 a.m. ET to begin its space station mission. The spacecraft linked up with the orbiting lab six hours later after a trouble-free trip.

Russia’s successful Progress resupply mission followed Tuesday’s disappointing failure of a commercial Antares rocket. Built by the Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp., the Antares exploded about 10 seconds after lifting off from its launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. An investigation into the launch failure is ongoing.

The Antares was due to send a Cygnus cargo ship with about 5,000 pounds (2,200 kilograms) of supplies and hardware to the space station. The Cygnus and its payload were lost, but NASA officials said the space station crew was in no danger of running out of food, water or air. [See photos of the Antares rocket explosion]

NASA station program manager Mike Suffredini told reporters that the orbiting laboratory has enough supplies to sustain its crew through next March, even without Russia’s Progress shipment or a delivery that California-based SpaceX is due to make in December.

— Tariq Malik,

This is a condensed and updated version of a report from Read the original report. Email Tariq Malik at or follow him on Twitter and Google+. Follow on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

First published October 29 2014, 1:51 AM

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Antares rocket explosion: The question of using decades-old Soviet engines – Washington Post

The tale of the engine that propelled the Antares rocket, which exploded in a spectacular ball of flame in Virginia Tuesday night, begins four decades ago, thousands of miles away, in the land of communism and Sputnik. There, in the Soviet Union, rocket scientists conceived and built dozens of rocket engines meant to power Russian astronauts into the cosmos. But it didn’t work out that way.

Instead, all four launches of the mighty N1 Soviet rocket, which used an earlier iteration of the engine used in Thursday’s launch, failed between 1969 and 1972. And as the Soviet Union abandoned the idea of putting cosmonauts on the moon, those engines languished in Russia “without a purpose,” reported Space Lift Now.

That was until they were snapped up by Dulles-based Orbital Sciences, which built the rocket that exploded. It uses refurbished versions of those Russian engines to propel missions to the International Space Station. To be clear, investigators say they do not know what caused Tuesday’s explosion, which destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment. But some observers are questioning those Soviet-era engines.

A rocket that was to resupply the International Space Station blew up Tuesday night a few seconds after lift-off from Wallops Island, Va. (NASA)

On Tuesday night, an Orbital executive complained there aren’t more modern alternatives to the decades-old engines, the Guardian reported. “When you look at it there are not many other options around the world in terms of using power plants of this size,” said Frank Culbertson, the company’s executive vice president. “Certainly not in this country, unfortunately.” The first issues with the rocket appeared to arise, he said, during the rocket’s first stage, when it was powered by Soviet engines. “The assent stopped [and] there was some, let’s say, disassembly of the first stage, after which it fell to Earth,” he said.

Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, the explosion is likely to stall the ambitions of Orbital Sciences, which has a $ 1.9 billion contract to make eight supply missions to the International Space Station. It shed $ 266 million in market value Tuesday night. What’s more, this is not Orbital’s only recent engine-related explosion.

In May, one of its refurbished Soviet engines failed at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. “Sources claim the engine ‘exploded,’” reported NASA Space Flight. “The failure is currently under evaluation.”

Elon Musk, the chief executive of Orbital’s competitor SpaceX, has long warned against using such decades-old technology. Calling it one of the “pretty silly things going on in the market,” he told Wired last year some aerospace firms rely on parts “developed in the 1960s” rather than “better technology.” He called out Orbital Sciences in particular. It “has a contract to resupply the International Space Station, and their rocket honestly sounds like the punch line to a joke,” he said. “It uses Russian rocket engines that were made in the ’60s. I don’t mean their design is from the ’60s — I mean they start with engines that were literally made in the ’60s and, like, packed away in Siberia somewhere.”

That synopsis isn’t far from the truth. After the N1 rocket failed in the early 1970s, the Soviet Union pulled back on its space ambitions, and its engines went into hibernation, Space Flight Now reported. “After the engines were built, Soviet space dreams were adjusted to focus on Earth-orbiting space stations, leaving the engineering marvels in storage without a purpose.”

They were eventually brought to the United States in the 1990s for a California-based company looking to supply engines for the Atlas 5 rocket, but another engine was ultimately chosen, the news agency said. And the “NK-33 appeared to be left in the dust for a second time until Orbital Sciences came along.”

The engines were far from perfect, but Orbital scientists nonetheless hailed them as unlike anything in the United States. “As we went through testing, we did discover there were some effects of aging since they had been in storage for awhile, including some stress corrosion cracking,” Culbertson conceded at the time. “That’s what we [corrected] with weld repairs and other inspections.”

Culbertson was less sure of the engines on Tuesday night. “We need to go through this investigation and be very thorough before we determine whether that’s a factor in this or not,” he said.

RELATED: “Students lost science experiments in Antares explosion

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Unmanned Antares rocket explodes on launch – USA TODAY

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. – 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.

“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.

A commercial supply ship bound for the International Space Station exploded moments after liftoff Tuesday. The unmanned rocket was carrying 5,000 pounds of cargo for NASA. (Oct. 28)

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.


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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.

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.

Contributing: Donna Leinwand Leger; The (Salisbury, Md.) Daily Times; The Associated Press

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