This morning, an Antares rocket carrying a payload to the International Space Station blew to smithereens at launch.
Two companies I know of, this one launched (almost) by Orbital Sciences, and SpaceX are competing to send astronauts into orbit. These days we’re relying on Russia to do the lifting, and since that whole “Reset Button” isn’t working out too well (thanks Barry), Russia isn’t exactly a reliable partner anymore.
Both companies have already successfully send cargo to and returned trash and material from the ISS, but this one carrying 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments aboard wasn’t destined to quite get off the ground. Not by much, anyway.
More info on the differences between the two companies and their launch vehicles:
Orbital’s Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft are significantly different from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Dragon. For a start, the Antares rocket uses just two engines in its liquid-fueled (RP-1/LOX) first stage, compared to the Falcon’s nine engines. As you can imagine, these two engines are huge, each one producing about three times the thrust of each of the Falcon 9’s Merlin engines. The Antares’ engines have an interesting provenance, too: They’re Aerojet AJ-26s, which are derived from the NK-33 rocket engine used by Russia’s N-1 rocket (pictured below). The N-1, which was the (failed) Soviet equivalent of the Saturn V that took the USA to the Moon, had 30 of these monstrous NK-33 engines, totaling 11.3 million pounds of thrust — the most powerful rocket stage ever built. As an interesting bit of trivia, the second N-1 rocket crashed back to Earth shortly after launch, creating the largest human-made non-nuclear explosion of all time.