It looks like Orbital Sciences have let the Kerbals get their hands on their latest rocket, after the Antares craft exploded shortly after launching at Wallops in Virginia.
The company which has a $1.9bn contract with NASA to supply the ISS has come under fire over claims the problem with the craft are the aged Russian engines
Eyebrows have been raised because the AJ-26 engines date from
the former Soviet Union and were originally made in the 1960s. Part of the abandoned Soviet moon programme, they were ordered to be destroyed in the early 1970s – but the company that made them decided to defy the order and stored them in secret instead, plastering them in radiation hazard stickers to deter the curious.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, they were sold to an American company, Aerojet Rocketdyne, later in that decade. The United States has not developed a new rocket motor for more than 35 years, and Orbital Science subsequently bought them from Aerojet to use in Antares.
The loss of the rocket isn’t an issue for the ISS as a Russian progress craft also lifted off last night and while it is too early to say for sure what caused a $200 million plus firework show, I imagine this is a blow to Orbital and might perk SpaceX up who now stand to get more funds to replace the lost cargo on their next flight.
Although as we have seen in the 50+ years we’ve been doing this, rockets go wrong and we should be thankful it was only an unmanned craft this time.