SpaceX rocket explodes during Cape Canaveral test fire

NASA emergency staff are monitoring the air for toxic fumes, while officials say there is no threat to public safety.

A Falcon 9 rocket belonging to tech billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX aerospace firm has exploded during a routine test firing at Cape Canaveral in Florida, shaking buildings and sending a thick cloud of black smoke into the air.

There were no reports of injuries in the explosion just after 9 am (1400 GMT) on Thursday

SpaceX said in a statement that an “anomaly” during the static fire test resulted in the loss of the rocket and the Israeli communications satellite that it had been due to carry into space on Saturday. 

“Our emergency management teams are responding right now,” Bryan Purtell, a spokesman for Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, told Reuters news agency.

The explosion occurred at Launch Complex 40 at the Air Force station, right next door to Kennedy Space Center.

NASA said that Kennedy emergency staff were on standby. At the same time, personnel were monitoring the air for any toxic fumes. The Air Force stressed there was no threat to public safety in the surrounding communities.

Catastrophic abort

The explosion tore through the launch site during the test firing of the Falcon 9 rocket and people in buildings several miles from the facility wrote on social media that they felt the blast.

Local authorities said residents were not at risk due to the explosion..

It was not immediately known if SpaceX’s launch pad was damaged or what the impact would be on the dozens of NASA and commercial satellite missions on its launch schedule.

The explosion is a major blow for SpaceX – and also for NASA, which relies on the company to keep the International Space Station equipped with food, science experiments and other supplies.

Elizabeth Howell, a science journalist, told Al Jazeera that SpaceX has used the same rocket for all of their re-supply launches to date, and their busy launch schedule could be affected.

“The problem is, now they are going to have to find a replacement and they can’t just just build one of these things overnight. It would probably take several months,” Howell said, who estimated the cost of the destroyed rocket at round $200m.

SpaceX is one of two companies shipping supplies to the space station for NASA.

Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane, reporting from Washington DC, said that it was not yet known how the loss of the rocket would affect SpaceX operations.

“The last time this happened to SpaceX they didn’t get to fly again for six months while they tried to figure out what happened and fix the problem,” Culhane said.


Zuckerberg: ‘Committed to our mission’

The destroyed AMOS-6 satellite, owned by Israel-based Spacecom, was going to be used by Facebook.

Last year, Facebook said it was partnering with Eutelsat Communications to boost data connectivity to large parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, and the satellite was part of that plan to boost bandwidth.

In a post from Africa, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said he was deeply disappointed at the loss of the satellite which he said would have provided connectivity to many entrepreneurs and everyone else across the continent.

“We remain committed to our mission of connecting everyone, and we will keep working until everyone has the opportunities this satellite would have provided,” he wrote.

Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 with the goal of slashing launch costs to make travel to Mars affordable.

The company plans to fly its first unmanned spacecraft to Mars in 2018 and send humans to Mars as early as 2024.


Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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