Nasa rocket blows up with piece of Singapore research

Video images showing the unmanned Antares rocket blasting off and then bursting into flames about 11 seconds after lift-off (above). -- PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
Video images showing the unmanned Antares rocket blasting off and then bursting into flames about 11 seconds after lift-off (above). -- PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
Video images showing the unmanned Antares rocket blasting off and then bursting into flames about 11 seconds after lift-off (above). -- PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
Video images showing the unmanned Antares rocket blasting off and then bursting into flames about 11 seconds after lift-off (above). -- PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
Video images showing the unmanned Antares rocket blasting off (above) and then bursting into flames about 11 seconds after lift-off. -- PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
Video images showing the unmanned Antares rocket blasting off (above) and then bursting into flames about 11 seconds after lift-off. -- PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

It took just 11 seconds for an unmanned rocket carrying cargo to the International Space Station to come crashing down to earth.

The explosion also destroyed the fruit of 10 months of research put in by Singaporean scientist Alex Ling and his team at the Centre for Quantum Technologies.

Their science experiment - a sandwich-size device - sat snug in the cargo rocket and was ready to be propelled into space at 6.22am Singapore time yesterday, from a launch pad in Virginia in the United States.

At the time of lift-off, Dr Ling's eyes were glued to the live broadcast by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the US space agency.

But to his horror, he saw the prized cargo go up in flames when the Antares rocket exploded seconds after it was launched.

"When I saw the rocket fall from the sky and blow up, it felt like a punch in the stomach," said the 38-year-old. "Of course we are disappointed. My team and I have worked on this for 10 months, and we were really looking forward to the launch."

The unmanned cargo rocket was meant to ferry 2,300kg of supplies, science experiments and equipment to the Space Station.

Among them was Dr Ling's miniature experiment, meant to test whether entangled light particles can be produced in space.

This is the first step towards quantum cryptography - a potentially safer way of sending encrypted data over global distances.

No one was injured in the explosion, and makers Orbital Sciences and Aerojet have not released the cause of the engine failure.

Dr Ling and his team at the National University of Singapore had put in much work to ensure that the 300g device could withstand the harsh conditions in space.

He now hopes to launch a similar experiment with an NUS-built satellite next year.

"Although it's sad we lost this instrument, everything we learnt from building and testing our first device for space can be applied to the next ones," he said.

kashc@sph.com.sg