There's been an explosion on SpaceX's Cape Canaveral launch complex. Apparently, a Falcon 9 rocket was in flames, and several images of a smoke plume rising above the complex suggest that something was very wrong. Image: Twitter / SpaceCoastTiger
Following a flurry of tweets about the explosion, NASA confirmed that there was indeed a series of explosions. The AP reports:
NASA says SpaceX was conducting a test firing of its unmanned rocket when the blast occurred Thursday morning. The test, considered routine, was in advance of a planned Saturday launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Buildings several miles away shook from the blast, and multiple explosions continued for several minutes. A cloud of dark smoke filled the overcast sky.
SpaceX reports that there were no injuries, but both the vehicle and its payload were lost. Its payload, by the way, was apparently an Israeli-made communications satellite that Facebook was going to use to blast free internet down to sub-Saharan Africa.
Nevertheless, images from the scene of the explosions look very bad:
— Danielle K (@GirlieToNerdy) September 1, 2016
— Scott Gustin (@ScottGustin) September 1, 2016
Here's an image of the strong back, via Skywitness News, showing significant damage.
The smoke plume even grew large enough that it was able to be seen on radar:
— Brad Panovich (@wxbrad) September 1, 2016
And onlookers were present to film the aftermath:
SpaceX was due to launch an Amos 6 communications satellite for Spacecom of Israel on a Falcon 9 on Saturday. Early reports indicated that the reused Falcon 9 rocket that was recently scheduled to take off was not involved in the accident:
Note that the Falcon 9 that just exploded was NOT the reused one - that was scheduled for next month, but of course will be delayed now
— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) September 1, 2016
However, it has since emerged that the Amos 6 communications satellite had indeed been loaded and was destroyed in the explosion. SpaceX confirms, that there were no injuries or casualties from the incident.
Statement on this morning's anomaly pic.twitter.com/3Xm2bRMS7T
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 1, 2016
Facebook reportedly had a deal with Spacecom to make use of their Amos 6 as part of their effort to increase worldwide internet connectivity. Computerworld reports:
SpaceX, one of the companies that launches cargo ships to the International Space Station, is set to launch the satellite for Facebook at 3 a.m. ET Saturday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Facebook is using space on the Amos 6 communications satellite, owned by Israeli-based Spacecom. The satellite is launching on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
We're reaching out to Facebook to find out how this will affect its free internet plans in Africa but had not heard back at time of writing.
NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida is on the scene and is now monitoring air quality following the explosion.
"NASA has no direct information related to the incident that occurred shortly after 9 a.m. EDT Thursday at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40," Mike Curie, Kennedy Space Center's News Chief, said in a statement to Gizmodo. "Kennedy Space Center Emergency Operations Center personnel are monitoring the situation and standing by to assist if required. Kennedy Environmental Health is monitoring the air quality to ensure it is safe for employees."
Roadblocks have been set up to keep the area around the launchpad, which as of last night still appeared to be sending up heavy smoke clouds, clear. But images, with earlier views of the explosion, continue to come in showing its incredible scale:
Explosion at SpaceX Pad 40 at 9:07am ET resulted in loss of the rocket & the payload. Pad was clear & no injuries. pic.twitter.com/4KQD1MvOmz
— talia landman (@taliaeliana) September 1, 2016
SpaceX has located the site of the problem -- though not quite the precise cause yet. It appears that the anomaly resulted from a problem occurring in the oxygen tank, although SpaceX is still trying to find out just what went wrong.
Loss of Falcon vehicle today during propellant fill operation. Originated around upper stage oxygen tank. Cause still unknown. More soon.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 1, 2016
Update on this morning's anomaly pic.twitter.com/1ogCMPCY44
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 1, 2016