A SpaceX rocket exploded on its launchpad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Thursday, shutting down a $200-million-dollar communications satellite and possibly delaying NASA’s cargo transport to the International Space Station, the New York Times reports.
The explosion impacted several things at once: it was a massive blow to billionaire Elon Musk, who runs SpaceX. The destruction, in turn, it resulted in a serious setback for social media giant Facebook, which had planned to extend its services across Africa using the satellite, and it cast a shadow on NASA’s increasing reliance on private companies for its transportation needs.
Musk has had to face problems in his quest to make space travel reachable and affordable, raising doubts on whether or not he is moving too quickly in his investments, which include car company Tesla and electric utility company SolarCity.
Dr. Scott Pace, a former NASA official and now the director of the Space Policy Insitute at George Washington University, says that, “SpaceX is running a punishing schedule,” and that there was some level of human error involved in the incident.
Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president, released a statement saying that the company’s priority is safety and reliability for its customers and that they are currently investigating the issue.
The SpaceX rocket, Falcon 9, suddenly burst into a series of blasts at 9:07 a.m., spewing out clouds of dark smoke around the Cape Canaveral area. Vibrations from the explosion were felt by residents living nearby.
The rocket was supposed to launch Saturday, carrying a satellite for Israeli company Spacecom.
Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, was in the middle of a tour in Kenya to promote a program known as Amos-6 that was to use the satellite. He had promised Africa connectivity and expressed his disappointment at the launch failure in a Facebook post.
Musk, for his part, posted an explanation of the explosion on Twitter, saying,
Loss of Falcon vehicle today during propellant fill operation. Originated around upper stage oxygen tank. Cause still unknown. More soon.
The rocket blast will most likely delay NASA’s timetable, but the agency announced that it was too soon to say how exactly the explosion will affect its operations. NASA affirms that it remains “confident” in its private partners and that spaceflight is “an incredible challenge” but is a learning process.
The next cargo mission for SpaceX is set for November. The company had hoped to launch 18 rockets this year, but only eight have successful so far. SpaceX has had 27 successful Falcon 9 launches in total.