By Heather Mendiola
On Tuesday, Oct. 28, at 6:22 p.m. EDT, the unmanned commercial rocket Antares exploded seconds after launch from Pad 0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va.
The Antares rocket, created by Orbital Science Corporation, was a two-stage launch vehicle designed to deliver medium-class payloads to space and was bringing 5,000 lbs of supplies and experiments in the Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station.
Antares has successfully completed four flights to the ISS, with its first having occurred on April 21, 2013. NASA has contracted Orbital Science Corporation to make commercial flights to the ISS since 2008.
A report by CNN on Oct. 30 stated that the rocket “was deliberately destroyed after it became apparent there was a problem.”
According to the company website, there is evidence that suggests the failure occurred in the first stage of the propulsion system, which is why seconds after the rocket launched, the rocket fell back to earth.
After realizing there was a problem and knowing it would not make it to orbit, the rocket was detonated immediately to avoid a major catastrophe near civilians.
The rocket and its cargo were priced at $200 million.
This amount does not include the damage done to the launch pad.
Specifically inside the rocket cargo was a small spacecraft called Arkyd 3, a bloodflow experiment called Drain Brain, four months of clothing and food for a the current crew and future crew and sixth grade science experiments that were part of NASA’s Student Spaceflight Experiments Program.
Some of the 18 student experiments were going to investigate the growth of crystals in space and the effects of microgravity on the shelf-life of milk.
The Drain Brain experiment onboard was an experiment for the astronauts.
The astronauts would have worn a special collar that measures blood flow to the brain.
This experiment would have gathered more information about the astronauts’ bloodflow while they are weightless.
The small spacecraft onboard the Antares, the Arkyd 3, was a small test vehicle of the technology of the Arkyd 100 Series that the company Planetary Resources plans to use to spot and mine asteroids.
The company’s spokesperson Stacey Tearne told NewScientist, “The mission will test and validate the spacecraft’s core technology and its software.”
This technology and software was going to test the probability of commercial asteroid mining.
If successful, Planetary Resources was going to spend millions of dollars to put 10 space telescopes, called Arkyd 100s, in Earth’s orbit to spot the spectroscope signatures of asteroids in deep space.
When these metal-carrying asteroids were detected, the company would have sent a rocket-assisted telescope, called the Arkyd 200, to assess the accessibility of metals near the asteroid’s surface.
Lastly, the company would send Arkyd 300s to land on the asteroid and mine metals like platinum and gold.
Why asteroid mining? The Planetary Resources webite states that platinum group metals are a most rare and useful metals on Earth, and “they exist in such high concentrations on asteroids that a single 500-meter, platinum-rich asteroid can contain more platinum group metals than have ever been mined in human history.”
Since the Arkyd 3 was destroyed in the rocket explosion, there is a new countdown to the next Arkyd spacecraft delivery, which will occur in nine months, and may make asteroid mining a possibility in the not-too-distant future.