A rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station exploded shortly after lift-off. The mishap occurred at a Virginia launch pad, Bloomberg reported.
The unmanned Orbital Sciences Corp rocket burst into flames yesterday above the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Wallops Flight Facility on the eastern shore of Virginia. An investigation has been launched by Orbital into the cause of what NASA described as a ''catastrophic anomaly.''
The explosion, which did not cause any injuries, is seen as a setback to space cargo flights by the US since NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011.
NASA is now dependent on Orbital and closely held SpaceX to ferry supplies to the space station, and the Russians to carry US astronauts there.
However, it said it would continue to pursue its commercial space launch programme just hours after the explosion.
While ''disappointed'' that Orbital's attempt at a third mission to resupply the shuttle failed, ''we will continue to move forward toward the next attempt once we fully understand today's mishap,'' said Bill Gerstenmaier, a NASA associate administrator, said in a statement yesterday.
The explosion ''will not deter us from our work to expand our already successful capability to launch cargo from American shores to the International Space Station.''
Mike Suffredini, the space station program manager said the six crew members in orbit aboard the space station - two NASA astronauts, one from the European Space Agency and three Russian cosmonauts - watched the launch via a NASA TV feed, Reuters reported.
"They were disappointed ... of course they are well aware that they have plenty of resources on orbit," Suffredini told reporters during a conference call.
With a Russian cargo ship scheduled to reach the space station on Wednesday, just 14 hours after the explosion in Virginia, the loss of the Cygnus supply vessel does not come as a problem for the orbiting team.
"There was no cargo that was absolutely critical to us that was lost on that flight. The crew is in no danger," Gerstenmaier said. According to Suffredini, the crew had enough food and other supplies aboard to last four to six months.
Orbital Sciences stock plunged 15.5 per cent to a two-month low of $25.65 in after-hours trade.
Frank Culbertson, Orbital Sciences executive vice president said the cause of the mishap was under investigation.
He added what was known to them so far was pretty much what everybody saw on the video. He added, the ascent stopped, there was some disassembly of the first stage, it looked like, and then it fell to earth.