Earlier this month, the Hawthorne, California-based private space firm SpaceX lost a Falcon 9 rocket on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
While on the company’s main launch pad, the Falcon 9 exploded in a massive fireball. The blast was so powerful that it shook buildings several miles away at NASA’s neighboring Kennedy Space Center. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the accident, as the rocket was being fueled ahead of a standard, pre-launch static-fire test of its engines.
Watch a video of the SpaceX rocket explosion by the BBC News:
The explosion also destroyed a $195 million satellite that the spacecraft was carrying. The Amos-6 satellite was owned by Israeli communication satellite operator Spacecom, and was going to be used by Facebook to improve Internet access in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk was largely silent about the incident until he took to Twitter over a week later to say that the loss of his company’s Falcon 9 rocket was:
“Turning out to be the most difficult and complex failure we have ever had in 14 years.”
Cause of the explosion remains a mystery
The company has been trying to pinpoint the cause, though he said on Twitter: “Important to note that this happened during a routine filling operation. Engines were not on and there was no apparent heat source.” Especially puzzling, according to Musk, is “the quieter bang” heard prior to the massive fireball. He said the bang might have come from the rocket or something else.
SpaceX is also seeking public footage for its rocket explosion probe as investigators are considering the possibility that third-party interference could have caused the incident.
If you have audio, photos or videos of our anomaly last week, please send to firstname.lastname@example.org. Material may be useful for investigation
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 9, 2016
With success come consequences
In addition to his SpaceX, Elon Musk was a co-founder of PayPal, established Telsa Motors, the electric car manufacturer, and is chairman of SolarCity, a solar energy company. Many see Musk as a brilliant engineer and entrepreneur, and have made comparisons between him and Tony Stark, the fictional superhero known as Ironman.
Prior to the explosion, his space company witnessed 28 Falcon 9 launches over a 6-year period, including eight international space station (ISS) supply runs for NASA. The company also completed the first landing of a booster rocket used in an orbital mission and was planning to reuse it for an upcoming satellite launch.
Watch a video of the SpaceX booster rocket landing on a droneship, by SpaceX:
But not everything was a success. An accident in June 2015 grounded the Falcon 9 rocket for six months. That accident, two minutes into a flight to the ISS, was blamed on a support strut that broke loose inside the upper stage.
NASA launch director Tim Dunn, while commenting on the recent Falcon 9 explosion, also praised SpaceX’s resilience:
“It’s nothing that any of us ever want to see; however, it is part of our business that has very harsh consequences.”