WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. – NASA destroyed an unmanned experimental rocket carrying a pair of research satellites Friday when it veered off course shortly after an early morning liftoff.
There were no injuries or confirmed reports of property damage, according to NASA, but the agency warned that debris from the explosion could be hazardous. NASA believes most of the wreckage fell into the Atlantic Ocean off the Virginia coast.
Officials said the rocket — a prototype made by Alliant Techsystems Inc., or ATK — was destroyed by remote control 27 seconds into the predawn flight. It was between 11,000 and 12,000 feet high when it exploded.
Officials said they do not know why it veered off course. It was destroyed to avoid endangering the public.
"I would be surprised if we don't know what happened fairly quickly," said Kent Rominger, an ex-astronaut who is now vice president of advanced programs for the company's launch systems.
NASA had paid $17 million for the two hypersonic flight research satellites and flight preparations.
Rominger declined to put a value on the one-of-a-kind rocket, which he said was developed over the past few years to learn firsthand about launch vehicles and to test new technologies.
The Minneapolis-based ATK makes the solid-rocket boosters for NASA's space shuttles and is working with the space agency on its new moon rockets.
Rominger called Friday's accident "a very big disappointment but not a setback."
"We knew the risks of launching payloads on a first-of-a-kind rocket," said Juan Alonso, director of NASA's fundamental aeronautics program.