Space

SpaceX explosion takes out Facebook's multi-million dollar satellite

SpaceX explosion takes out Fac...
Today's explosion took out a Falcon 9 rocket, like this one, along with the communications satellite it was meant to launch
Today's explosion took out a Falcon 9 rocket, like this one, along with the communications satellite it was meant to launch
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Today's explosion took out a Falcon 9 rocket, like this one, along with the communications satellite it was meant to launch
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Today's explosion took out a Falcon 9 rocket, like this one, along with the communications satellite it was meant to launch

This morning, as SpaceX was testing an unmanned rocket in preparation for a launch on Saturday, an explosion erupted sending a dark plume of smoke into the air. "Buildings several miles away shook from the blast, and multiple explosions continued for several minutes," according to the Associated Press. The explosion happened on the launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), near NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

"SpaceX can confirm that in preparation for today's standard pre-launch static fire test, there was an anomaly on the pad resulting in the loss of the vehicle and its payload," said the company on its official Twitter feed. "Per standard procedure, the pad was clear and there were no injuries."

The US Air Force says that they have set up roadblocks around CCAFS as they respond to the event.

The rocket, the ninth Falcon 9 rocket SpaceX would be putting up this year, was meant to deliver Israeli company Spacecom's Amos-6 communications satellite to orbit. The satellite was part of Facebook's Internet.org initiative and was meant to make Internet access available to millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa, but is now lost.

As part of its routine preparations for the launch, the company does what's called a "static fire test," which means it burns the rocket's engines while holding it in place with tethers. That's the test that was scheduled today and it's unclear exactly what went wrong to cause the explosion.

The explosion comes a little over a year after another SpaceX rocket went up in a fireball. That rocket was carrying supplies to the International Space Station and failed about two minutes after liftoff.

New Atlas will continue to follow this story and provide additional information as it becomes available.

The video below shows the Falcon 9 being blown apart (at around 1:00 minute).

SpaceX - Static Fire Anomaly - AMOS-6 - 09-01-2016

Additional reporting by Nick Lavars, New Atlas

Sources: Associated Press, The Verge

20 comments
Rick Clapp
I'll be very interested in the results of this investigation considering what the payload was intended to accomplish.. The targeted areas are very repressed. Could this have had a bit of help in happening?
CharlieSeattle
Crap video. Where is the close up of the actual explosion?
solutions4circuits
*like*
Leonard Foster Jr
Space X is moving to fast or it's Sabotage ???
VirtualGathis
I'm with Rick I'm eager for results in the investigation. This rocket was also the first re-use of a landed first stage. I'm very curious to see if it was stress damage that wasn't detected in re-certification or if it was something else on the rocket. If it was sabotage as Rick implies it would be hard to prove if it was to prevent oppression resistance gaining new tools or if it was SpaceX competition trying to keep them from radically reducing launch costs so far below what the ULA can ever hope to achieve they cease to be relevant. However since there is absolutely no evidence of anything, not even a preliminary result in the investigation this is all highly speculative and therefore not worth much.
Joe Blough
I have wondered whether or not the private space companies ever do design reviews with NASA. Are these newbies simply re-inventing the wheel and undergoing Homer Simpson moments or do they leverage the expertise of the NASA people who have been in the space game for 50 + years? Spacecraft and rocket engines are not like earth bound engineering at all. The materials requirements are completely different. Simple but old example, any metal alloy or coating with cadmium in it has the cadmium evaporate out in the vacuum of space. Duh oh. While this has nothing to do with the facebook thing blowing up in their face real good, it does speak to need for a lot of history and knowledge that doesn't come from making most aircraft. It looks like facebook just lost some face.
David A Galler
I am sorry read this.There should be renewed research into air-breathing first stages for lifting vehicle.
sivadyar@gmail.com
Bummer. But, what the people in sub-Saharan Africa really need is not internet connectivity.
Skipjack
@VirtualGathis, this was not a previously flown stage but a new stage. @NewAtlas, this was not an "explosion" but a fast deflagration. Also the rocket is held down by clamps that attach to the thrust structure near the bottom of the first stage, not by tethers.
Derek Howe
VirtualGathis - "This rocket was also the first re-use of a landed first stage." No it wasn't, that was planned for Q4 of this year...a timeline which will now likely fall into 2017.