On September 1st, a Space X rocket was engulfed in a fireball at their launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force base in Florida, while being fueled prior to a routine launch test. The explosion destroyed the ‘Falcon 9’ rocket, as well as its commercial payload. A spokesman from the pioneering space transport company was quoted explaining that the accident “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.”
Though there were no injuries, the accident casts a shadow of doubt over the future of the company, as its second incident in as many years, following an explosion after liftoff of another Falcon 9 rocket on June 28th, 2015. Space X has said this first explosion was traced to a faulty bracket, which led to a liquid oxygen tank becoming over-pressurized and rupturing. Space X has replaced the faulty parts throughout its fleet, and asserts that the two incidents were unrelated. The company had 9 successful flights since this first incident.
On Friday, September 9th, Space X founder Elon Musk tweeted “still working on the Falcon fireball investigation. Turning out to be the most difficult and complex failure we have ever had in 14 years.” An investigation is underway led by the company, and overseen by the Commercial Space Transportation office of the Federal Aviation Administration. Both Nasa and the US Air Force are assisting the investigation. The explosion, technically a “fast fire” according to Musk, occurred before any of the rocket’s nine engines had ignited, with Musk stating on Friday that “there was no apparent heat source.”
Although there were no injuries, the fireball destroyed the rocket’s commercial payload, which was a 200 million-dollar satellite owned by Israeli company Space Communication. Facebook and French-based company Eutelsat planned to use the satellite to expand internet access in Africa.
Space X has a 10 billion-dollar backlog of flights for commercial and government clients, including the 70 launches. The next launch had already been planned for later this month from the company’s second launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The company has not yet reported how much damage was done to its Florida launch pad, but they have already stated an intention to shift Florida launches to a pad at Nasa’s nearby Kennedy Space Center.
Space X has emphasized that it is prioritizing safety for future crewed missions.