There were no injuries reported when the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded on its launch pad during a test on Septempter 1. Elon Musk, SpaceX Founder and CEO called the accident the “most difficult and complex failure” in the history of the company.
This is the second such accident in 15 months involving the Falcon 9 rocket, which is scheduled to, as early as next year, launch with NASA astronauts aboard.
The company said, in a statement posted to Twitter, that they “can confirm that in preparation for [the September 1] standard pre-launch static fire test, there was an anomaly on the pad resulting in the loss of the vehicle and its payload. Per standard procedure, the pad was clear and there were no injuries.”
The explosion of the 230-foot SpaceX rocket occurred as crews were fueling it ahead of its September 3 launch date.
“To identify the root cause of the anomaly, SpaceX began its investigation immediately after the loss, consistent with accident investigation plans prepared for such a contingency,” SpaceX officials said in a statement. “These plans include the preservation of all possible evidence and the assembly of an Accident Investigation Team, with oversight by the Federal Aviation Administration and participation by NASA, the United States Air Force and other industry experts.”
The explosion damaged the Space Launch Center 40 launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force station in Florida, a problem that will likely lead to company seeking out an alternative launch site for future endeavors.
“SpaceX currently operates three launch pads – two in Florida and one in California at Vandenberg Air Force Base,” said the company in a statement, emphasizing that the accident has had no effect on their other launch sites. “Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base is in the final stages of an operational upgrade and Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center remains on schedule to be operational in November. Both pads are capable of supporting Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches. We are confident the two launch pads can support our return to flight and fulfill our upcoming manifest needs.”
NASA also released a statement concerning the Falcon 9 failure, citing the priority of safety of any crew members involved in future launches over keeping strict schedules.
“It is too early to know whether Thursday’s incident will impact their development schedules,” said the NASA statement. “Spacecraft and launch vehicles designed for the Commercial Crew Program must meet NASA’s stringent safety criteria before being certified to launch crews into space. Successfully meeting those requirements has always taken precedence over schedule.
The rocket’s payload, the $200 million Amos-6 communications satellite intended for the use of Facebook in their attempt to extend internet access in Africa, was also destroyed. Facebook, in partnership with tech companies, local communities, and non-profits, founded Internet.org with the aim of bringing internet access and the benefits of that access to the two-thirds of the world, about 4.5 billion people, that does not have them.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement on the social media site that he is “deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX’s launch failure destroyed our satellite that would have provided connectivity to so many entrepreneurs and everyone else across the continent.
Fortunately, we have developed other technologies like Aquila that will connect people as well. We remain committed to our mission of connecting everyone, and we will keep working until everyone has the opportunities this satellite would have provided.”
The Falcon 9 is a two-stage rocket designed to bring the Dragon spacecraft into orbit. In 2012 the Dragon made a successful rendezvous with the international space station, making SpaceX the first commercial company ever to do so. The nearly 550,000-kilogram rocket is designed for a possible 4,000-kilogram payload to Mars. The Falcon 9 is the first rocket entirely designed in the 21st century.