Wallops launch pad damage

Until tonight, little news was released following last night’s destruction of the Orb-3 launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, VA. I can’t say that I was surprised, as they must have spent the entire day assessing damage, collecting debris, and  just starting to make sense of what happened before they released a statement.

Sure enough, tonight NASA and Orbital Sciences Corp (the company who built and launched the Antares launch vehicle and Cygnus cargo spacecraft) have both issued statements. But first, here’s what the launch pad looked like today:

 Wallops launch pad looking south after launch failure An aerial view of the Wallops Island launch facilities taken by the Wallops Incident Response Team Oct. 29 following the failed launch attempt of Orbital Science Corp.'s Antares rocket Oct. 28. Image Credit:  NASA/Terry Zaperach
An aerial view of the Wallops Island launch facilities on Oct. 29 following the failed launch attempt of Orbital Science Corp.’s Antares rocket Oct. 28. Image Credit: NASA/Terry Zaperach

Wow. The first thing I notice is the charred blast which appears to have been largely directed toward the beach. That makes sense since the rocket was heading upward and slightly eastward at the time of the explosion. But take a look at that launch tower – it’s knocked to about a 45 degree angle. And two of the four lightning rod towers are completely gone. Still, to my untrained eye, most of the structure appears to be intact. But let’s hear it from Orbital themselves (emphasis mine):

The overall findings indicate the major elements of the launch complex infrastructure, such as the pad and fuel tanks, avoided serious damage, although some repairs will be necessary. However, until the facility is inspected in greater detail in the coming days, the full extent of necessary repairs or how long they will take to accomplish will not be known.

— Orbital Sciences Corp

That’s encouraging news. Pad 0A is the only pad certified to launch Antares so the sooner it can be repaired, the sooner the Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport s can get back to supporting the International Space Station. Still, it’s far too early to tell the full extent of the damage. Still, the initial image released by NASA does seem to back up the statement:

Local news station WAVY released video of the launch complex and the surrounding area. They got some good shots of the launch pad and of the debris that had washed ashore:

WAVY Chopper 10 flies over NASA rocket launch debris. Credit: WAVY 10

Mind you, this is still very early in the investigation. It’s going to be months before there’s another rocket launch out of Wallops, to the space station or anywhere else. But we’ll take the encouraging news as we get it.

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