Nasa’s Rocket Explosion in Pictures

An unmanned commercial rocket bound for the International Space Station exploded moments after liftoff, with debris falling in flames over the launch site in Virginia. No injuries were reported following the first catastrophic launch in Nasa’s commercial spaceflight effort.

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The accident was sure to draw criticism over the space agency’s growing reliance on private U.S. companies in this post-shuttle era. Nasa is paying billions of dollars to Orbital Sciences and the SpaceX company to make station deliveries, and it’s counting on SpaceX and Boeing to start flying U.S. astronauts to the orbiting lab as early as 2017. This was the fourth flight by Orbital Sciences to the orbiting lab.

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The Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket blew up over the beachside launch complex at Wallops Island. The company said everyone at the site had been accounted for and the damage appeared to be limited to the facilities. And nothing on the lost flight was urgently needed by the six people living on the 260-mile (418-kilometre)-high space station, officials said.

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Flames could be seen shooting into the sky as the sun set

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Orbital Sciences’ executive vice president Frank Culbertson said things began to go wrong 10 to 12 seconds into the flight and it was all over in 20 seconds when what was left of the rocket came crashing down. He said he believes the range-safety staff sent a destruct signal before it hit the ground.

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Bill Wrobel, director of Nasa’s Wallops Flight Facility, said crews were letting the fires burn out late Tuesday and set up a perimeter to contain them in the darkness.

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This was the second launch attempt for the mission. Monday evening’s try was thwarted by a stray sailing boat in the rocket’s danger zone. The restrictions are in case of just such an accident that occurred Tuesday.

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Culbertson said the top priority will be repairing the launch pad “as quickly and safely as possible.”

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Shocked spectators view the explosion of the Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo capsule after the failed launch

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The Wallops facility is small compared to Nasa’s major centres like those in Florida, Texas and California, but vaulted into the public spotlight in September 2013 with a Nasa moonshot and the first Cygnus launch to the space station.

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People who came to watch the launch walk away after the unmanned rocket, owned by Orbital Sciences Corporation, exploded

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A still taken from TV footage showing fires burning near the Cygnus Rocket launch pad

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The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard, is seen on launch Pad-0A at Nasa’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia

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Orbital Sciences Corp. completes a final cargo load of the Cygnus cargo spacecraft

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The Orb-3 mission’s payload fairing (the casing around the spacecraft) is installed on Orbital Sciences Corp’s Antares rocket on the evening of October 23, 2014, at the Horizontal Integration Facility at Nasa’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia

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The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard, is seen on launch Pad-0A at sunrise at Nasa’s Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia

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