Flames shoot into the sky after a rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station explodes seconds after lift-off.
People have been warned to keep away from any hazardous debris they might find after an unmanned rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station exploded seconds after lift-off.
NASA footage showed the Antares rocket, built and launched by Orbital Sciences Corp, bolting off its coastal launch pad at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia and exploding in a huge fireball seconds later.
Enveloped in flames, the rocket collapsed to the ground, as a cloud of dark grey smoke rose from the wreckage.
No one was injured and the damage so far appears to be limited to the facilities, according to the company.
Ronda Miller, manager of the Ocean Deli in Wallops Island, told the Reuters news agency she felt the force of the blast from five miles (8km) away.
Investigators quickly secured the perimeter of the area and blocked any outside interviews of witnesses or staff, citing classified equipment that had been aboard.
The cause is not yet known, and NASA mission control in Houston, Texas, called it a “catastrophic anomaly”.
Engineers said the countdown had gone according to plan and there were no issues apparent with the machinery.
Speaking at a news conference, Orbital Sciences executive vice president Frank Culbertson warned of the dangers of debris around the site.
He said: “I do want to caution the public…This is an accident site and it is a rocket. It had a lot of hazardous equipment, hazardous materials on board, that people should not be looking for or wanting to collect souvenirs over.”
Anyone who finds anything should not touch it, keep others away from it and contact the local authorities, Mr Culbertson added.
The rocket was carrying a Cygnus spacecraft packed with nearly 5,000lb (2,200kg) of food, supplies and materials for space experiments.
One of the items on board was a nitrogen tank to manage the ISS’ air supply, said Tariq Malik, managing editor of Space.com, who also added that some scientists had been waiting years to get their hardware on board.
Also among its payload were some Maryland crab cakes for the space station crew.
he launch was postponed on Monday after a boat ventured into a restricted zone within 10 minutes of take-off.
NASA is paying Virginia-based Orbital Sciences and California-based SpaceX to keep the space station stocked after the space agency retired its own space shuttles.
Orbital has a $1.9bn (£1.1bn) contract with NASA for a total of eight supply missions. The rocket itself and the cargo ship were valued at $200m (£123m).
The mission, known as CRS-3, was to be Orbital’s fourth trip to the ISS.
After the launch, Cygnus was meant to remain in orbit until 2 November, then fly itself to the station so astronauts could use a robotic crane to snare the capsule and attach it to a berthing port.
NASA spokesman Rob Navias said there was nothing on the rocket that was urgently needed by the six people living on the station.