Orbital Sciences says engine could have caused rocket explosion, announces future plans

Posted at 5:45 PM, Nov 05, 2014
and last updated 2014-11-05 19:57:03-05

Wallops Island, Va. - In just a matter of seconds, the Antares rocket exploded over Wallops Island.

And now, more than a week later, Orbital Sciences says one of the engines could have been to blame.

"Current evidence strongly suggests that one of the two AJ26 main engines that powered Antares' first stage failed about 15 seconds after ignition," said David Thompson, Orbital Sciences Chairman and CEO, by conference call Wednesday.

As a result, for now, the company says it will likely stop using the Russian-made engines like the ones used on the rocket.

"But I want to stress that more analysis will be required to confirm that this finding is correct," said Thompson.

Thompson says the company will continue to move forward with its agreement with NASA to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) by the end of 2016.

In order to do it, they will likely send cargo to the ISS with a different rocket over the next couple of years.  However, it will not be an Antares rocket, and the cargo will not be launched from Wallops Island either.

"We will support the work of MARS (Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport) and NASA to quickly repair the facility damage at Wallops Island so as to allow Antares launch operations to resume there in early to mid-2016 and to continue for the long term," said Thompson.

The repairs will come at no additional cost to NASA.

Thompson also says the company plans an early introduction of the new upgraded engine system in 2016, just in time to resume launches from the Eastern Shore.