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Orbital Sciences blames Russian engine for Antares rocket failure

By Brooks Hays
Orbital Sciences blames Russian engine for Antares rocket failure
This NASA image shows the Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard, as it suffers a catastrophic anomaly moments after launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A, on Oct. 28, 2014, at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The spacecraft was filled with about 5,000 pounds of supplies for the International Space Station. UPI/Joel Kowsky/NASA | License Photo

DULLES, Va., Nov. 7 (UPI) -- A Russian-made rocket engine is being blamed in the post-explosion analysis by commercial spaceflight company Orbital Sciences.

In a statement released earlier this week, the company said initial testing of debris suggests "failure in one of the two Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ26 stage one main engines" was responsible for the explosion of its Antares rocket.

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The Antares explosion, which lit up the evening sky over coastal Virginia last month, destroyed the company's unmanned Cygnus cargo ship, along with more than 2.5 tons of supplies scheduled for delivery to the International Space Station. As a result of the explosion and its suspicions about the faulty first-stage engine, Orbital Sciences announced it would discontinue use of the Russian engines by 2016.

The company has previously been criticized for its decision to use rocket engines originally designed for the Soviet Union's ultimately failed N-1 moon mission. Despite its recent setback, the company said it would move forward -- likely using different rockets -- with its launch program, promising to fulfill its contract to launch six more ISS resupply missions.

"While last week's Antares failure was very disappointing to all of us, the company is already implementing a contingency plan to overcome this setback," David W. Thompson, Orbital's chairman and chief executive officer, said. "We intend to move forward safely but also expeditiously to put our CRS cargo program back on track and to accelerate the introduction of our upgraded Antares rocket."

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