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WATCH: Unmanned Antares Rocket Explodes Shortly After Takeoff

A unmanned rocket carrying 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments to the International Space Station exploded shortly after blastoff on Tuesday at NASA's facility on Wallops Island, Va.

The rocket was made by Orbital Sciences, which was contracted by NASA to ship supplies up to the International Space Station.

On Twitter, Orbital said there had been a "vehicle anomaly."

A live feed provided by NASA showed the Antares rocket taking off and then a few seconds later, a fiery descent, culminating in an enormous explosion.

If you remember, after NASA ended its space shuttle program it signed a deal with two private companies to resupply the International Space Station. Per Space.com, Orbital Sciences has a $1.9 billion contract with NASA for eight cargo missions through 2016. SpaceX has a 12-mission, $1.6 billion deal with NASA.

Antares made its first successful flight in April 2013. The mission today was supposed to be Antares' third commercial resupply mission to the ISS.

NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports that NASA says that the Space Station has plenty of spare food and water, so this won't impact operations.

Update at 8:33 p.m. ET. 'Catastrophic Failure':

In a press release, Orbital said its vehicle suffered a "catastrophic failure" shortly after takeoff. There were no casualties and "property damage was limited to the south end of Wallops Island." The reasons for the failure are still unknown.

"It is far too early to know the details of what happened," said Frank Culbertson, Orbital's executive vice president, said in a statement. "As we begin to gather information, our primary concern lies with the ongoing safety and security of those involved in our response and recovery operations. We will conduct a thorough investigation immediately to determine the cause of this failure and what steps can be taken to avoid a repeat of this incident. As soon as we understand the cause we will begin the necessary work to return to flight to support our customers and the nation's space program."

Update at 9:48 p.m. ET

Orbital officials said at a press conference Tuesday night that it likely would take a few weeks just to assess how much damage has been done to the Wallops Island facility, and that they won't be able to determine until then how long it will take the company to get its supply flights back up and running.

At the moment the company is setting up a perimeter around the affected area and is waiting for the fires caused by the explosion to burn out before they can begin assessments.

They also discouraged people from looking or handling debris from the the spacecraft, which cost at least $200 million, because some of its fuel payload was toxic.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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