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Unmanned Rocket Bound For ISS Explodes

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antares explosionOne of Orbital Science’s Antares rockets exploded yesterday, just seconds after launch from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Orbital Sciences is one of the private companies contracted to bring supplies to the ISS — it was the second private company to complete a cargo run to the ISS (SpaceX was the first). Yesterday’s flight would have been the third such mission for Orbital Sciences, but instead, it’s entering the record books for another, grimmer reason.

While the explosion shook those near the launch site and was by some likened to a small earthquake, no one was injured. It isn’t clear yet what happened, and today an investigation team began sifting through data, while another started sorting through debris near the crash site. Frank Culbertson, Orbital Sciences’ executive vice president, says the company will “get things back on track,” and that such an occurrence is, unfortunately, all too common, but they’ve “all seen the teams recover from this, and we will do the same.” Of course, that can’t happen until damage to the launch pad and other infrastructure is repaired, so it might be a while.

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3, 2, 1 — Uh Oh, SpaceX Reschedules Falcon 9 Rocket Launch For Thursday

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Falcon 9

Earlier today, SpaceX’s website was counting down, stopping, then counting down again, then stopping again, scrubbing the launch that was scheduled to take place at approximately 5:37pm EST. On Thursday, SpaceX will again attempt to launch a Falcon 9 rocket for a GEO Transfer Mission. The rocket, which will launch from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Base, will put an Orbital Sciences SES-8 satellite, designed to support Southeast Asian communications needs for about 15 years, into a geostationary transfer orbit. Then, about a half-hour after launch, the Falcon 9 will deliver the satellite into geostationary orbit at about 22,000 miles above Earth, roughly 25% of the way to the moon. Many launchers deliver a satellite in two phases, or burns, depending on how long and how much power it takes to reach the first apogee. The transfer to geostatic orbit phase is usually performed via solar power, which reduces overall costs. This launch is SpaceX’s first attempt at putting a communications satellite in orbit.

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Orbital Science’s Cygnus Spacecraft Docks With The ISS

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CygnusThis morning, Orbital Sciences became the second commercial space company to dock a ship to the International Space Station (SpaceX was the first).

On September 18th, Orbital’s Antares rocket launched the spacecraft Cygnus from the Virginia Wallops Flight Facility. Cygnus attempted a first docking on September 22nd, but a software glitch involving the format of the GPS data from the ISS caused the week-long delay — apparently Cygnus’s GPS format was older than the Japanese PROX system in use on the ISS. For the past week, Cygnus has been hanging out about 2.5 miles from the station, waiting for its orbit to realign with that of the ISS, and waiting for a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to arrive at the station. The ISS’s air traffic controllers apparently aren’t used to jockeying multiple spacecraft at once.