Boeing rocket explodes in Florida launch
Communications satellite destroyedAugust 27, 1998
Web posted at: 12:24 PM EDT
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (CNN) -- A new version of Boeing's Delta 3 rocket carrying a U.S. communications satellite exploded shortly after blasting off from Cape Canaveral on its maiden flight Wednesday.
"We have lost the rocket," Boeing spokesman Perry Cain told CNN, adding that he did not have any details on why the rocket failed.
A large piece of burning debris plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast and exploded with a fiery mushroom cloud that lit the horizon.
The U.S. Air Force said wreckage from the rocket fell about 10 miles (16 km) off shore. There were no reports of any damage or injuries. The area had been cleared of all shipping prior to the launch.
The Delta 3 was the second rocket to explode in the skies above Cape Canaveral in two weeks. A Titan 4A rocket carrying a spy satellite blew up on Aug. 12.
"It's like being punched in the belly," said Brig. Gen. Randy Starbuck the Air Force commander of the Cape Canaveral launch site.
The $225 million mission to put in orbit a private Galaxy 10 communications satellite, operated by PanAmSat Corp., ended just one minute and 20 seconds after the rocket lifted off at 9:17 p.m. EDT. The satellite, which carried 24 C-band and 24 Ku-band transponders, was scheduled to beam television channels to cable operators in the United States and the Caribbean.
The mission had been delayed for two days because of Hurricane Bonnie, and Boeing was eager to get the rocket off the launch pad before Hurricane Danielle threatened a crucial tracking station on the island of Antigua in the Caribbean.
Boeing's launch director, Rich Murphy, told a news conference early on Thursday it was too early to determine the cause of Wednesday's explosion.
Long-range cameras showed the Delta 3 tipping over before erupting in flames. Safety officers then commanded the rocket to self destruct.
The explosion occurred at about the time the first six of the rocket's strap-on boosters were to be jettisoned and three more were to be ignited.
Boeing officials launched an investigation into the incident and were to meet on Thursday with the Federal Aviation Administration, which licenses commercial rocket launches.
The new booster, which is capable of hauling twice the cargo of its predecessor, the Delta 2, was supposed to compete against European Ariane and U.S. Lockheed Martin Corp. Atlas rockets for lucrative commercial launch contracts.
"It's a temporary setback," PanAmSat president and chief executive officer Fred Landman said. The company is putting a high priority on replenishing its Galaxy/PAS constellation of spacecraft. It has had problems with Galaxy 7 and the loss of Galaxy 4 in May crippled pager service throughout the U.S. for days.
The Galaxy 10 satellite and launch were fully insured. Galaxy 11 is scheduled to go up on another new rocket, the Sea Launch Zenit-3SL, early next year.
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