Fortunately, no one was hurt in the huge ball of fire when the 14-story rocket plunged to the ground. Records of the launch showed flames suddenly engulfed the rocket, from the bottom to the top, about 11 seconds after liftoff and before the blast. The rocket itself and the cargo ship it carried were valued at $200 million. The Cygnus craft was loaded with more than 1,600 pounds (725 kg) of science experiments and carried a prototype satellite owned by Redmond, Washington-based startup Planetary Resources Inc.
Even the cargo was not absolutely critical, the spacecraft included “some classified cryptographic equipment.” The cause of the mishap was under investigation, said Frank Culbertson, Orbital Sciences executive vice president. “The crew (on the International Space Station) is in no danger,” NASA Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier said. They have food and other supplies aboard to last four to six month. A Russian cargo ship due to reach the space station on Wednesday.
Antares is powered by the AJ-26 engine built by GenCorp Inc division Aerojet Rocketdyne – a refurbished version of the Soviet-era NK-33 engine developed for the heavy-lift N-1 moon rocket. Another AJ-26 exploded during a ground test at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi in May.