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What: Shares of Orbital Sciences (NYSE:OA) plunged 16% early Wednesday after the company's Antares rocket suffered a catastrophic failure and crashed shortly after liftoff.

So what: Described by Orbital Sciences as "the largest and most complex rocket the company has ever produced," the Antares rocket was carrying a Cygnus spacecraft loaded with 5,050 pounds of supplies meant for the International Space Station. This was meant to be Antares' fifth flight since its inaugural launch in April 2013.

Orbital issued a statement yesterday evening confirming no casualties were reported, and that "property damage was limited to the south end of Wallops Island." Orbital Executive Vice President Frank Culbertson insisted, "It is far too early to know the details of what happened," and said the company will immediately conduct a thorough investigation to both determine what happened and prevent such an event from recurring. 

Now what: While details are scarce, keep in mind Orbital Sciences was carrying insurance for the failed launch. Orbital is also holding a conference call later today to discuss the incident with financial analysts and investors, so we should hear more about how this affects the company's financial results then. For perspective, when Orbital announced solid quarterly results earlier this month, it told investors to expect 2014 revenue in the range of $1.350 billion to $1.375 billion, with adjusted earnings per diluted share of $1.20 to $1.25.

Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Orbital Sciences. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.