A piece of Singapore-made device exploded together with the unmanned rocket that fell back to earth seconds after taking off from a Virginia launch pad yesterday, The Straits Times reported.
The Antares rocket was carrying 2,300kg of cargo including supplies, equipment and science experiments to the International Space Station. Among them was a 300g sandwich-sized device developed by Singaporean scientist Alex Ling and his team at the Centre for Quantum Technologies.
Their experiment was put together after 10 months of research at the National University of Singapore (NUS) to test whether entangled light particles can be produced in space, The Straits Times said. This could be a potentially safer way of sending encrypted data over global distances.
Dr Ling told The Straits Times that "it felt like a punch in the stomach" when he saw the experiment go up in flames. He was watching the live broadcast of the rocket's take-off by US space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa).
He and his team had put in much effort to ensure that their device could withstand the harsh conditions in space, The Straits Times said.
The 38-year-old told the paper: "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 now hopes to launch a similar experiment with an NUS-built satellite next year, The Straits Times said.
The 14-storey Antares rocket was built and launched by Orbital Sciences Corp. The blast was the first disaster since the Nasa turned to private operators to ferry cargo to the space station.
Nobody was injured from the disaster, but Reuters quoted witnesses as saying that the explosion looked like a "ball of fire" and shook buildings for miles.