Wallops Rocket Crashes In Ocean Shortly After Launch

Wallops Rocket Crashes In Ocean Shortly After Launch

WALLOPS — After three days of aborted launch attempts caused by boats in the designated hazard area, a Terrier-Improve Malemute sounding rocket went up early Wednesday morning and abruptly crashed harmlessly into the ocean just about 20 seconds into the flight.

The Terrier-Malemute was launched 4:36 a.m. on Wednesday and quickly cruised to an altitude of 27,000 feet. However, the flight ended prematurely due to what is believed to have been a problem with the motor and the rocket crashed harmlessly into the ocean in the established hazard zone. No injuries or property damage were reported. Later on Wednesday morning, Wallops officials were trying to determine what caused the rocket to fail and crash into the sea.

“We really don’t know at this point,” said Wallops spokesman Keith Koeller. “A review board is being set up and they will be poring over the details and the data. Just about 19 seconds into the flight, the Malemute’s motor starting losing its connection and it didn’t ignite and impacted into the hazard zone.”

The very offshore hazard zone into which the rocket crashed caused the launch to be scrubbed for three straight days prior to Wednesday. The launch was initially set for last Sunday, but was aborted because of boats in the hazard zone. A similar scenario played out on Monday and Tuesday.

NASA and Wallops Island post marine notices prior to launches advising boaters of the estimated launch dates and times along with a grid showing the longitude and latitude of the established hazard zone and also broadcast the advisories over the radio. In addition, during the countdown to a launch, Wallops officials scan the area off the coast of the flight facility in and around the hazard zone for vessels.

Finally, on Wednesday morning after the hazard zone was scanned and deemed all clear, the unmanned Terrier Malemute, which contained multiple student-built experiments, was launched but crashed into the ocean down range from the launch pad.

Koeller said the incident illustrated why the marine notices are posted and broadcasted and the hazard zone is scanned carefully prior to any launch.

“This really emphasizes why we have those,” he said. “We really appreciate the support of the boaters and we understand those canyons off the coast are prime fishing area. We just have to work with them and they have to work with us.”

Koeller said Wednesday’s crash was the first at Wallops in recent history.

“You know the old saying, but this really is rocket science,” he said. “It has been a while since we’ve had any failures.”