Antares Down

Stunning loss on launch last night of the Antares rocket carrying cargo to the International Space Station. As a result, tor the moment, US-based commercial cargo delivery capability to ISS has been cut by 30+%.

While we will know more in a few days, video of the liftoff sequence suggest that the Antares began to lose thrust as soon as it was off the pad, and rapidly began to translate laterally (yaw) in a way uncharacteristic of normal flight. In all likelihood, the issue was a failure of an engine or of flight control software/monitoring hardware.

That the rocket detonated within 6-seconds suggests a possible self-destruct activation. Video (and unconfirmed reports) suggest that the Range Safety Officer sent a destruct signal which triggered detonators on the second stage.

Some observations:

*Failures in flight are not uncommon

*The Antares uses the AJ26-58 engine on the first stage. These engines were originally built in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s for the ill-fated Soviet moon rocket. They have been substantially rebuilt but the bones are more than 40 years old.

*An AJ26-58 blew-up during quality assurance testing in May 2014

*With the Antares grounded, the US has only one commercial cargo to Low Earth Orbit service provider.

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