A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and a telecommunications satellite supported by Facebook were destroyed today in a launch-pad explosion at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, during preparations for a pre-launch static fire test.
No injuries were reported.
The explosion occurred at 9:07 a.m. ET (6:07 a.m. PT), the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing said in a tweet. USLaunchReport captured the scene in a dramatic video that showed the Falcon 9’s upper stage exploding. A huge fireball engulfed Launch Complex 40, sending up a pillar of black smoke.
SpaceX Static Fire Test Anomaly https://t.co/mclu9RFaeH
— Mike Wagner (@USLaunchReport) September 1, 2016
SpaceX had been due to launch the Amos-6 telecommunication satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit at 3 a.m. ET Saturday (midnight PT Friday) for Israel’s Space Communication Ltd. The satellite was designed to provide direct satellite data services, including internet access via Facebook, for areas of Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
“SpaceX can confirm that in preparation for today’s static fire, there was an anomaly on the pad resulting in the loss of the vehicle and its payload,” company spokesman Phil Larson told GeekWire in a text. “Per standard procedure, the pad was clear and there were no injuries.”
Orlando’s WFTV quoted eyewitnesses as saying the blast “felt like several sonic booms.” The station provided a live video view the scene from the air.
Later in the day, SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, said in a tweet that the explosion occurred while the Falcon 9 was being filled with propellant in preparation for the rocket test firing. He noted that the blast appeared to originate around the upper stage’s oxygen tank, but said the cause was still unknown:
Loss of Falcon vehicle today during propellant fill operation. Originated around upper stage oxygen tank. Cause still unknown. More soon.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 1, 2016
Some residents voiced concern about contamination from the blast, but the Brevard County Emergency Management Office said there was no threat to the general public. “We have not recommended any evacuations,” the center said in a tweet.
Roadblocks were set up at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as a safety measure.
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center said it was monitoring the situation and standing by to assist if required. NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Martin said the center’s emergency operations center reported “no concerns with air quality” and no injuries to employees.
The loss of the rocket and its satellite payload, plus the delays that may come up due to the investigation into the anomaly, could have ripple effects on SpaceX’s ambitious launch schedule for the rest of the year. SpaceX had to put its launches on hold for almost six months last year due to the breakup of a Falcon 9 rocket shortly after liftoff.
Among the missions on SpaceX’s manifest are the first launch of Iridium Next communication satellites, scheduled for this month; the first launch of a previously flown Falcon 9 booster, which was set for as early as October; and a cargo resupply launch to the International Space Station in November.
In a statement, NASA said it was too early to determine whether today’s setback would affect SpaceX’s schedule for space station deliveries. But if there are delays, “other cargo spacecraft will be able to meet the station’s cargo needs, and supplies and research investigations are at good levels,” the space agency said.
The explosion is not expected to delay the launch of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid-sampling mission from nearby Launch Complex 41 a week from today.
Today’s events were documented in a torrent of tweets. Here’s a sampling:
— CNBC Now (@CNBCnow) September 1, 2016
— Josh Miranda (@JMirandaWDBO) September 1, 2016
— Todd Harrison (@ToddHarrisonDC) September 1, 2016