SpaceX has lost another Falcon 9 rocket, but there wasn’t even a launch scheduled for today. The spacecraft exploded while still on the launchpad in preparation for a launch this weekend at Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX has confirmed the explosion destroyed the rocket and its payload, a satellite for Facebook’s internet.org project.
The company is still investigating the cause of the accident, which took place at about 9AM eastern time, but no one will be able to get a good look at the wreckage right away. The launchpad was still belching out smoke and fire for hours after the explosion. There were also a number of secondary explosions that kept everyone at a distance.
According to SpaceX, the explosion took place during a fueling operation for pre-launch testing. As per regulations, all personnel were at a safe distance from the rocket, so there were no injuries. While the cause is currently unknown, founder Elon Musk has stated that the company believes the explosion originated around the upper stage oxygen tank. That’s part of the propulsion system for the payload, not the first stage that SpaceX has successfully landed following launch several times in recent months.
Facebook has expressed disappointment in the loss of its Amos-6 communication satellite. The satellite was supposed to deliver broadband internet access to remote locations in Africa as part of the internet.org initiative. Facebook and satellite provider Eutelsat spent $95 million to license satellite’s Ka-band communications array for five years. The satellite is owned by Israel-based Spacecom.
This explosion marks the second payload loss for SpaceX in the last few years. It was last June that a Falcon 9 rocket exploded during launch, taking with it a load of supplied and scientific equipment destined for the International Space Station. In that case, a faulty strut was found to be the cause. SpaceX fixed the problem, and seemed to be on a roll with a number of successful launches and landings for the Falcon 9. SpaceX is also set to begin carrying humans into space next year as part of NASA’s commercial crew program.
With the last rocket explosion, it was clearly a problem with the rocket — we all saw it go boom. This time, there are more variables. The Falcon 9 wasn’t firing its engines as it was being fueled in preparation for a static fire test. There could have been some malfunction in the rocket that caused the explosion, or it might have been a problem with the launchpad equipment. We’ll have to wait for the outcome of the investigation to know for sure.