Russian robotic spacecraft delivers cargo to space station after US commercial craft crash
The robotic Russian spacecraft Progress 57 has successfully delivered almost three tons of cargo to the International Space Station not many hours after a commercial US rocket suffered a catastrophic explosion shortly after it was launched.
The Progress 57 took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on top of a Soyuz rocket early on Wednesday and docked in the orbiting International Space Station six hours later. The International Space Station is a joint effort of a number of countries including the US and Russia. Canada also is involved in the program. On Tuesday, an Antares rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corp. based in Virginia in the US exploded just 10 seconds after the launch from its pad at NASA' Wallops Flight Facility also in Virgina. The rocket exploded in a gigantic fireball and crashed back down on the launch pad in a flaming heap. However, there were no casualties or even injuries in the incident. Orbital Sciences has a $1.9 billion contract with NASA. This is the third cargo mission to the space station. A spokesperson for NASA called the explosion "a catastrophic anomaly." However, property damage appears limited to the South End of Wallops Island. Orbital executive vice-president Frank Culbertson said:
"It is far too early to know the details of what happened. We will conduct a thorough investigation immediately to determine the cause of this failure and what steps can be taken to avoid a repeat of this incident. As soon as we understand the cause we will begin the necessary work to return to flight to support our customers and the nation’s space program."Culbertson said the value of the Antares rocket and Cygnus lost was about $200 million.
Robert Pearlman, editor of the website collectSPACE.com describe the liftoff from his vantage point a few miles away:
"As the vehicle was climbing off the pad, there was something trailing — a smoke and fire plume from the rocket itself — trailing from the rocket all the way up. As it cleared the top of the water tower, there was a clear break-apart, and the booster's integrity failed. There was then a tremendous fireball, trailed by a very loud explosion. Parts were sent flying everywhere, and then the vehicle fell back to the pad, exploding in an even larger fireball, setting the entire area on fire."There is already an ongoing investigation into the launch.
The rocket was meant to take a Cygnus cargo ship to the international space station. The cargo consisted of 5,000 pounds or 2,200 kilograms of supplies. The Cygnus and payload were destroyed, however there are still plenty of food, water, and air at the space station and the Russian-delivered supplies will help as well. Mike Suffredi, NASA station program manager, claimed that there were enough supplies to last through next March even without the Russian delivery and another commercial delivery by Space-X of California scheduled for December.