WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (AP) — Despite a massive explosion in October, authorities say a state-owned launch pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility should be repaired and ready for testing late next year.
Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket exploded seconds after liftoff from Wallops Island on the Eastern Shore of Virginia on Oct. 28. The rocket was carrying a cargo ship that was bound for the International Space Station.
The Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority on Wednesday provided news media outlets a tour of the damage from the explosion. Two lightning towers at the launch pad were knocked down by the blast while the two others suffered damage and will need to be replaced. A water tower next to the launch pad was slightly charred and had exterior lighting damaged, but otherwise withstood the blast. A large crater was created in the sand next to the launch pad from the blast where the rocket came down.
Two nearby buildings scheduled to be removed prior to the explosion were also damaged, but the vast majority of the complex was unscathed.
"This pad has come through in very good shape. It's still some significant repairs, but it's a $120 million pad and the repairs are less than $20 million," said Dale Nash, executive director of the Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority.
NASA says no environmental hazards were discovered in the air following the explosion. The space agency says the water-retention basins at the launch pad have been pumped dry and will be cleaned to prevent future contamination. The impact crater was pumped dry five times to remove what NASA describes as significant levels for perchlorate. Additional pumping will continue, and water samples will be taken each time. The pumped water is being kept in large, enclosed storage tanks and will be taken to an off-site treatment facility. Soil near the crater is also being excavated to remove any residual chemicals, which will also be taken to an off-site disposal facility.
Orbital Sciences plans to launch its next Antares rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station in 2016. The Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority says the launch pad should be able to conduct what's known as a hot-fire test at the launch pad by the end of 2015 in anticipation of the launch.
The Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority has said repairs to the launch pad should not exceed $20 million. Congress has agreed to pick up the tab for those costs. U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., toured the launch pad on Wednesday and said it is of national interest to see the facility repaired as quickly as possible.
"This infrastructure survived remarkably well, given the magnitude of the challenge," Kaine said. "But there's obviously a cost to repair. The missions that are flown here are very necessary. The mission that is being done serving the space station and other missions here definitely have a public component."