ATK recently unveiled a new rocket, a one-time suborbital test vehicle to check out unspecified new proprietary technologies. NASA, always desperate for low-cost rides, put two payloads, the HyBolt Hypersonic Boundary Layer Transition experiment and the SOAREX sub-orbital re-entry experiment, on board. The two-stage solid-fuel bird had to be destroyed, though, only 27 seconds into its flight from Wallops Island. NASA acknowledged it had accepted the risk of flying the payloads on an untested rocket.
COMMENT: In a sadly familiar refrain, NASA also acknowledged there had been no budget to build backups, and the important experiments won't be reflown. ATK wasn't happy, either: any rocket failure reflects badly on its insistence that its technology for the Ares I booster is mature (it's not clear how closely this rocket was related, but some shared technology seems likely.) Finally, it's a sad comment on American journalism that countless stories and headlines referred to the lost payloads as "satellites."