Orbital announced today that the preliminary findings of the Accident Investigation Board (AIB) point to a Turbo pump failure in one of the two AJ26 main engines on the Antares rocket.
Because of this Orbital will no longer use the AJ26 engines and will instead accelerate the migration to a new engine on the Antares. Due to the delay in completing the migration, and due to the design on Cygnus, Orbital will use an alternative launcher (to be announced) to fulfill Cygnus missions until such time that Antares is ready. Orbital will assume any additional costs for using the alternate launcher .
Orbital will continue to use Wallops for the upgraded launcher once is it ready and will fulfill any remaining flights in it’s current CRS contract with the modified Antares.
The full press release can be found here.
Over the weekend, Orbital confirmed the participation of the following individuals who will serve on the Antares launch failure Accident Investigation Board (AIB), which is being led by Orbital under the oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The composition of the AIB is as follows:
- David Steffy, Chief Engineer of Orbital’s Advanced Programs Group
- David Swanson, Senior Director of Safety and Mission Assurance for Orbital’s Technical Operations organization
- Wayne Hale, Independent Consultant and Former NASA Space Shuttle Program Manager
- David Cooper, Member of Orbital’s Independent Readiness Review Team for the company’s Launch Systems Group
- Eric Wood, Director of Propulsion Engineering for Orbital’s Launch Systems Group
- Tom Costello, Launch Vehicle Assessment Manager in the International Space Station Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center
- Matt Lacey, Senior Vehicle Systems Engineer for NASA’s Launch Services Program
FAA Oversight Team
- Michael S. Kelly, Chief Engineer, FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation
- Marcus Ward, Mishap Response Coordinator, FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation
Antares Data Review
The AIB is initially focused on developing a “fault tree” and a timeline of the important events during the launch sequence. Due to the large amount of data available, the AIB is able to work with a rich source of information about the launch. One of the initial tasks for the AIB is to reconcile the data from multiple sources, a process that is now underway, to help create the launch sequence timeline.
Launch Site Status
Over the weekend, Orbital’s Wallops-based Antares personnel continued to identify, catalogue, secure and geolocate debris found at the launch site in order to preserve physical evidence and provide a record of the launch site following the mishap that will be useful for the AIB’s analysis and determination of what caused the Antares launch failure. The debris is being taken to a NASA facility on Wallops Island for secure and weather resistant storage.
Antares Data Review
It is a travel day for the remainder of Orbital’s Antares data review team who were on site at Wallops Island supporting the initial “quick look” flight data evaluation on Wednesday and Thursday. At this point we believe the on-site data review process has progressed as far as necessary, so the team is transitioning back to their home bases. The Accident Investigation Board (AIB) Chairman, Mr. Dave Steffy, and members of the AIB that are now being identified, will immediately take over further development of the “fault tree” that will drive future investigation activities.
Launch Site Status
Today, the Wallops team continued to document and catalog the debris field. Yesterday’s focus was on clearing any potentially hazardous items. Current priorities are on finding, cataloging and securing any elements of the stage 1 propulsion system that will be of particular interest to the AIB, as well as any cargo that may be found at the site. The team’s goal is to complete that work today. With adverse weather predicted for the weekend, they do not want to lose any evidence or any of the intact cargo that survived the mishap. Orbital expects the process of cataloging and securing all the remaining debris to continue for several days.
CRS Go-Forward Plan
The company’s senior managers have begun developing a comprehensive plan to maintain the cargo supply line between Earth and the International Space Station, fulfilling Orbital’s commitment to NASA for the delivery of supplies for the astronaut crew, necessary equipment for the operation and maintenance of the station, and scientific experiments conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory. Details about Orbital’s approach for completing future missions under its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA will be made public in the near future.
Our next update will be on Monday, November 3 to report on activities conducted during the weekend.
Launch Site Status:
Based on initial sweeps conducted by an Orbital safety team, it appears a significant amount of debris remains on the site and it is likely substantial hardware evidence will be available to aid in determining root cause of the Antares launch failure. Some of the Cygnus cargo has also been found and will be retrieved as soon as we have clearance to do so to see if any survived intact. After up close visual inspections by the safety team, it still appears the launch site itself avoided major damage. There is some evidence of damage to piping that runs between the fuel and commodity storage vessels and the launch mount, but no evidence of significant damage to either the storage vessels or launch mount. Detailed evaluations by MARS and their engineering team will occur in the next couple of days. An Orbital-led team has begun cataloging and documenting the location of all pieces of debris over the next several days after which the debris will be relocated to storage bays on the island for further evaluation.
Antares Data Review:
Telemetry data has been released to Orbital and our engineers presented a very quick look assessment to the Accident Investigation Board at the end of the day. It appears the Antares vehicle had a nominal pre-launch and launch sequence with no issues noted. All systems appeared to be performing nominally until approximately T+15 seconds at which point the failure occurred. Evidence suggests the failure initiated in the first stage after which the vehicle lost its propulsive capability and fell back to the ground impacting near, but not on, the launch pad. Prior to impacting the ground, the rocket’s Flight Termination System was engaged by the designated official in the Wallops Range Control Center.
This afternoon ULA successfully launches another GPS IIF satellite aboard it’s workhorse Atlas V vehicle. This was the third launch attempt around the world within a 24 hour period following the Orbital Antares accident yesterday and the successful Soyuz launch early this morning EDT.
This was the 8th GPS IIF satellite to be launched by ULA, the first 5 abort Delta IV and the others using Atlas V.
Following a smooth countdown the Atlas V’s RD-180 engine roared to life lifting the rocket towards orbit. At the end of the live broadcast the rocket was coasting to it’s second Centaur firing destination, the satellite will be deployed once the second stage arrives at it’s drop off destination.
The following screen grabs were taken from the ULA live feed.
Fifteen hours after the lose of the Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft another cargo vehicle from Russia arrived successfully at the station. Launched just six hours before, the Progress 57 completed it’s four orbit, six hour journey to the station with a successful docking at 9:08am EDT.
Carrying almost three tonnes of supplies for the station, the craft will be remain at the station for the next six months, it will be unloaded and eventually filled with trash that will burn up in the atmosphere.
Here is a video of the launch earlier this morning
Below are some screen grabs of the docking.
Following a scrub yesterday due to a boat breaking the range safety keep out area the Orbital Sciences Orb-3 mission made another attempt today. Following a very some and uneventful countdown the Antares rocket carrying the ‘Deke Slayton’ Cygnus lifted off on time at 6:22pm EDT, unfortunately approximately 6 seconds later a catastrophic failure occurred causing the rocket to explode and come crashing back to the launchpad.
Orbital Sciences have instigated a failure investigation team which will be led by Richard Straka, Deputy General Manager of Orbital’s Launch Systems Group. The investigation team will include representatives from NASA, Orbital, and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Wallops, Va.
Reports on NASA TV indicate significant damage to the launch pad and fires could be seen burn over a wide area after the explosion. All range personnel have been accounted for.
This is certainly a setback for Orbital Sciences, the Commercial Cargo program and the numerous science teams that had payloads on Cygnus, it shouldn’t have too much of an impact on future launches for the other suppliers to the station. However until the cause of the anomaly is known and resolved we seriously doubt there will be any further Cygnus launches to the station.
We will continue to update this post as further information becomes available.
A Soyuz TMA-14M carrying cosmonaut Aleksandr Samokutyayev, the first female cosmonaut Yelena Serova and astronaut Barry E. Wilmore lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome at 4:25pm EDT to begin a four orbit, six hour journey to the International Space Station to complete the Expedition 41 crew complement.
Following a smooth ride to orbit the spacecraft transitioned to orbital operations before beginning the accelerated approach plan that been adopted by the Russian Federal Space Agency for trips to the station. This reduces the amount of time the crew spends in the cramped environment of the Soyuz spacecraft, before the new plan was adopted it would typically take two days before the crew would be aboard the station.
Docking is scheduled at 10:15pm EDT today and will be shown live on NASA TV, with hatch opening scheduled for a couple of hours later once all the leak tests have been completed.
Below are screen grabs of the launch from NASA TV.
At 1:52:04am EDT today a SpaceX Falcon 9 lifted off from Cape Canaveral carrying a Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station for the fourth CRS mission under the NASA’s commercial cargo program. The launch originally scheduled for yesterday had to be scrubbed due to weather constrains. Unlike the recent satellite launches which had long launch windows SpaceX had to liftoff exactly on time or perform a 24 hour scrub.
Following a smooth countdown despite more weather concerns near the launchpad the rocket was able to liftoff to begin a 2 day journey to the station.
160 seconds after liftoff the first stage completed it’s job and dropped back to earth where despite not having landing legs SpaceX will perform a series of tests as they have before in an attempt to land the rocket. We learnt today during a NASA briefing that SpaceX has been sharing the data from these tests with NASA as they were planning to perform some very similar tests for landing on Mars and other planetary bodies. Instead of spending the money on there own tests they are providing assets for SpaceX to help track the first stage as it returns.
Once the stages had separated the second stage’s single engine propelled the rocket the rest of the way to orbit where the Dragon spacecraft was successfully deployed. Once in orbit Dragon deployed it’s solar arrays and began it’s journey to the station.
Below are some of the payloads that are being carried among the 5,000 pounds of supplies that Dragon is taking to the station.
3D Printing in Zero-G Experiment – Will demonstrate 3D printing technology in space, created by Made In Space Inc this will test out the capabilities of a 3D printer in micro-gravity something that has only been done in 30 seconds stints until now. Made In Space are already working on another bigger version of the printer which they hope to launch next year this could enable the station crew to print replacement parts instead of waiting for a visiting vehicle to bring them.
ISS-Rapid Scatterometer (ISS-RapidSat) – This is being carried in the trunk and will be attached to the outside of the station by the robot arm. The ISS-RapidSat will be used to monitor ocean surface wind speed and direction.
Rodent Research-1 – For the first time SpaceX will be carrying live animals to the station, this has been made possible by the inclusion of SpaceX’s first Environmental Control and Live Support System (EGLSS) system. This experiment will allow researches to determine the long-term effects of micro-gravity on mammals. Half the rodents will be returned when CRS-4 lands, the others will remain on the station and will return on the next mission CRS-5.
Below are screen grabs of the launch
A lot has happened in Space or related to Space recently and the future is looking very bright.
Below is a summary of some of the recent news and upcoming events.
SpaceX and Boeing awarded CCtCap contracts – We now have two companies contracted to build manned spacecraft to deliver crew to the ISS. Currently only two other countries have the ability to do this. See my full article on the awards here.
ULA and Blue Origin announce BE-4 engine – Following pressure from various sources ULA have announced they are going to partner with Blue Origin to build the engine which will allow them to move away from the Russian RD-180 engine for Atlas. Full article include specs can be found here.
Mars Orbiters arriving soon – This Sunday NASA’s Mars Maven orbiter will be arriving at the planet and next Wednesday India’s Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft is also expected to arrive. They will join three other orbiters currently at Mars and the two active Rovers on the surface.
ESA Rosetta Lander Philae has a landing site – The European Space Agency has announced the landing site for Philae which is part of the Rosetta mission. This will be the first time a vehicle has landed on the surface of a Comet. For more information on the mission check out the excellent ESA Blog for Rosetta.
First 3D Printer heading to space – Early tomorrow morning SpaceX’s CRS-4 mission is scheduled to lift off, on board will be the first 3D printer to go into space. The possibilities this opens up for the future are immeasurable. For more information on the printer check out this page. We will be posting an update tomorrow morning following the launch of CRS-4.