No financial help coming from Aerojet Rocketdyne for Pad 0A cleanup
It appears that Aerojet Rocketdyne, the manufacturer of the AJ26 rocket engine, will not be providing financial assistance for repairs to Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility’s Mid-Atlantic Spaceport’s (MARS). These repairs become necessary after an Orbital ATK Antares exploded approximately twelve seconds into flight on Oct. 28, 2014.
The accident investigation had determined that the most probable cause of the explosion was due to excessive wear in the turbopump of one of the two AJ26 engines in Antares first stage. This resulted in the catastrophic loss of the rocket – the Cygnus spacecraft that was its payload and parts of Pad 0A as well.
The investigation into what took place used the telemetry received back at launch control as well as what limited remains were available to determine that the following was the most likely series of events:
Parts of the turbopump apparently tore through the engine, thereby reducing the Antares’ forward thrust. The rocket then fell earthward, crashing directly onto the launchpad. As mentioned, Antares’ payload for the flight was the cargo-carrying Cygnus spacecraft. It was meant to be the third cargo run (Orb-3 ) to the International Space Station (ISS) under Orbital ATK’s $1.9 billion commercial resupply contract with NASA.
The resulting explosion from the engine failure and subsequent crash of the Antares left Pad 0A with a lot of repairs. While the damage is extensive, it was a lot less than it could have been. There was only minor damage to the fuel and oxidizer storage tanks as well as the water tower. Many of the pad components, such as the strong-back, had moderate to heavy damage that is repairable. The lightning towers suffered major damage and will need to be replaced before the site is usable again. Additionally, there is a lot of environmental damage. Site clean cleanup and repair is underway and MARS expects to have Pad 0A working again prior to the planned March 2016 return to flight of Antares.
A report appearing on Space News states that the amount of damage caused was estimated at $13 million with about $2 million worth of repairs still remaining. To find out more about the dynamics of this evolving situation, SpaceFlight Insider reached out to Orbital ATK for more information.
“The quick answer is that, no, Aerojet Rocketdyne won’t be contributing to the expenses,” said Jennifer Bowman, a spokesperson for Orbital ATK. “We should see flights resume next year.”
The AJ26, or NK-33 as it was called when it was constructed 40 years ago when they were built by the Kuznetsov Design Bureau for use on the N-1 Moon rocket, has encountered at least two failures at NASA’s Stennis Space Center during tests.
Aerojet Rocketdyne was created when parent company GenCorp purchased Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne from United Technologies and merged the two entities in 2013.
Joe Latrell is a life-long avid space enthusiast having created his own rocket company in Roswell, NM in addition to other consumer space endeavors. He continues to design, build and launch his own rockets and has a passion to see the next generation excited about the opportunities of space exploration. Joe lends his experiences from the corporate and small business arenas to organizations such as Teachers In Space, Inc. He is also actively engaged in his church investing his many skills to assist this and other non-profit endeavors.