Cygnus CRS Orb-3
Explosion on the Cygnus CRS Orb-3 launch vehicle seconds after launch
|Mission type||ISS resupply|
|Operator||Orbital Sciences Corporation|
|Mission duration||15 seconds
(1 month planned)
|Spacecraft type||Standard Cygnus|
Thales Alenia Space
|Start of mission|
|Launch date||October 28, 2014, 22:22:38UTC|
|Launch site||MARS LP-0A|
Cygnus CRS Orb-3, also known as Orbital Sciences CRS Flight 3 or Orbital 3 (Orb-3), was an attempted flight of Cygnus, an automated cargo spacecraft developed by United States-based company Orbital Sciences, on October 28, 2014. This flight, which would have been its fourth to the International Space Station and the fifth of an Antares launch vehicle, resulted in the Antares rocket exploding seconds after liftoff.
This would have been the third of eight flights by Orbital Sciences under the Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA. This was the first attempted flight of the Antares 130, which uses a more powerful Castor 30XL second stage, and the last flight of the standard-sized Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module.
Launch and early operations
The mission was scheduled to launch on October 27, 2014, at 22:45 UTC from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at the Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia, with rendezvous and berthing with the ISS early in the morning on November 2. This was the first night-time launch for both the Antares launcher and Cygnus spacecraft. The launch was scrubbed due to safety concerns of a sailboat entering the exclusion zone less than ten minutes before launch. A 24-hour delay was put in place, with the next launch opportunity scheduled for 22:22:38 UTC on October 28, 2014.
The Antares rocket carrying the Orb-3 Cygnus launched as scheduled from Launch Pad 0A on October 28, 2014. Fifteen seconds after liftoff a failure of propulsion occurred in the first stage and the vehicle began falling back to the launch pad; before reaching the ground it was destroyed by its flight termination system which was engaged by a command from the Wallops Range Control Center.
The resulting explosion was felt in Pocomoke City, Maryland, 20 miles (32 km) away. The fire at the site was quickly contained and allowed to burn itself out overnight. Initial review of telemetry data found no abnormalities in the pre-launch, the launch sequence, and the flight, until the time of the failure.
In a press release, NASA stated that there were no known issues prior to launch and that no personnel were injured or missing but that the entire payload was lost and there was significant damage to the launch pad. However, a survey on October 29 found no serious damage to the launch pad and site fuel tanks, although some repairs will be required.
On October 29, 2014, teams of investigators began examining debris at the crash site.
Orb-3 carried a variety of NASA-manifested payloads, some determined fairly late in the days before the launch. The cargo module from the rocket carried 2,300 kilograms (5,000 lb) of supplies and experiments meant for the International Space Station. In addition, the Arkyd-3 satellite would have been transported to the ISS on this flight.
Planet Labs was launching Flock-1d, its next flock of 26 Earth observation nanosatellites. After the accident they stated that this would not set them back due to their approach to space involving many satellites in various constellations.
Arkyd-3 was a 3U CubeSat technology demonstrator from private company Planetary Resources (PRI). PRI had packaged a number of the non-optical satellite technologies of its larger Arkyd-100 telescope satellite—essentially the entire base of the Arkyd-100 satellite model revealed in January 2013, but without the space telescope—into a "cost-effective box" of Arkyd 3, or A3, for early in-space flight testing as a subscale nanosatellite. The Arkyd-3 testbed satellite was packaged as a 3U CubeSat form-factor of 10×10×30 centimetres (0.33×0.33×0.98 ft). PRI contracted with NanoRacks to take the A3 to the ISS where it was planned to be released from the airlock in the Kibo module.
The subsystems to be tested included the avionics, attitude determination and control system (both sensors and actuators), and integrated propulsion system that will enable proximity operations for the Arkyd line of prospectors in the future.
This near-term attempt to validate and mature the Planetary Resources satellite technology was planned to launch in October 2014, before launch and flight test of the Arkyd-100 in 2015.
CRS Orb-3 was carrying eighteen student experiments designed to investigate crystal formation, seed germination, plant growth, and other processes in microgravity as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program.
Two amateur radio CubeSats, RACE and GOMX-2, were onboard, among other satellites. On board GOMX-2 were two payloads. One payload was a pathfinder experiment for the Small Photon-Entangling Quantum System  designed by the Centre for Quantum Technologies. The other was a sail brake experiment to remove a CubeSat from orbit by increasing aerodynamic drag.
Failure analysis and aftermath
With some preliminary investigation completed, Orbital cited the cause of the Orb-3 launch failure as likely being a turbopump failure in one of the AeroJet Rocketdyne AJ-26 engines, a refurbished Russian NK-33 engine.
As of January 2015[update], repairs to the Wallops Flight Facility are under way. To meet its Commercial Resupply Services obligations with NASA, Orbital is planning to launch at least one Enhanced Cygnus cargo spacecraft via an Atlas V launch vehicle in 2015 while a new engine is selected and tested for the Antares launch vehicle. Orbital has yet to officially announce which engine may replace the AJ-26, but evaluation of other engines such as the RD-181 and RD-193 were being conducted as an AJ-26 replacement prior to the incident. The redesigned Antares launch vehicle is expected to fly again sometime in 2016.
Total cargo: 2,215 kg (4,883 lb)
- Science investigations: 727.0 kg (1,602.8 lb)
- U.S. science: 569.0 kg (1,254.4 lb)
- International partner science: 158.0 kg (348.3 lb)
- Crew supplies: 748 kg (1,649 lb)
- Equipment: 124.0 kg (273.4 lb)
- Food: 617.0 kg (1,360.3 lb)
- Flight procedure books: 7.0 kg (15.4 lb)
- Vehicle hardware: 637.0 kg (1,404.3 lb)
- U.S. hardware: 605.7 kg (1,335.4 lb)
- JAXA hardware: 30.0 kg (66.1 lb)
- Spacewalk equipment: 66.0 kg (145.5 lb)
- Computer resources: 37.0 kg (81.6 lb)
- Command & data handling equipment: 34 kg (75 lb)
- Photography/TV equipment: 3.0 kg (6.6 lb)
Total cargo with packaging: 2,294 kg (5,057 lb)
- 2014 Virgin Galactic crash, which occurred a few days after this CRS-3 crash
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