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Orbital Sciences may fast-track retiring its engines after rocket explosion

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A rocket exploded Tuesday evening. We still don’t know what caused it, but the rocket’s maker, Orbital Sciences, said during a call with investors today that its investigation into the incident may prompt it to invest in new engines.

The engines are of particular interest in the explosion because of their origin: the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Elon Musk actually made fun of them back in 2012 in a Wired article.

It’s not that unusual to fly a rocket part for many, many years. When you are sending something to space, it needs to work. While Musk might disagree, many companies take the stance that they would rather fly something that has been proven over and over again than something that is the latest technology.

But Orbital Sciences CEO David Thompson said during the investor call that the company was already looking at replacing the engines before the explosion happened (but after a separate incident in May in which the same engine exploded for a different company), USA Today reports.

“Under the original plan, we were as of now about two years away from conducting the first launch of an Antares with a second generation propulsion system,” Thompson said during the call, according to USA Today. “We are currently looking at the prospects for accelerating the introduction of that system.”

Thompson added that Orbital Science’s next flight, which is scheduled for April, may have to be delayed for sometime between three months and a year.

“Certainly a failure like this … is not helpful,” USA Today reported Thompson as saying. “But the possibility of an earlier introduction of a new propulsive system could actually be a positive development.”

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