Space X has had a slew of successes in 2016, so as if to remind us that the real world of space travel is far from easy, one of the commercial rocket firm’s boosters exploded on the launch pad during a planned test. While no injuries occurred, the Amos-6 satellite payload was destroyed, meaning a loss of well over $200 million.
The explosion occurred during preparation for a static fire test of the Falcon 9’s many Merlin engines. CEO of Space X Elon Musk confirmed that it was during the fuelling of the second stage that the explosion took place, though the root cause of it is currently unknown.
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
What we do know is that it took the entire payload with it, damaged the launch pad and obliterated the Falcon 9 booster. Chances are insurance will cover all costs involved, but it’s a sad day for Space X, considering it’s recent history of successes and for the owner of the satellite: Facebook, which hoped to use it to provide internet access to many regions of Africa.
CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg posted a message stating his disappointment at “Space X’s launch failure,” for “destroying our satellite,” but said that there were other plans to bring internet to Africa and those would follow through as planned in the coming months.
With no one injured in the explosion, attention will now turn to what the cause of it was. When Space X’s Falcon 9 exploded mid-launch in 2015, it was found to be because of a single strut which broke free during the first stage burn, leading to a liquid oxygen overpressure event. It meant several months of re-configuring as new struts were sourced and supplied. Depending on the cause of this latest event, we may be looking at similar delays moving forward.
Certainly those with expensive payloads are not going to be keen to sit them atop a Falcon 9 until the cause has been discovered and rectified. TechCrunch also highlights that this could push back the intended manned launch aboard a Space X rocket in 2017. Likewise the debut flight of the Falcon Heavy and intended first re-use of a Falcon 9 booster, will likely be delayed also.
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KitGuru Says: It’s also worth asking the question: how will this affect confidence in Space X moving forward? Even with insurance, nine figure cost payloads are not something to sniff at if they have a chance of exploding on the launch pad, no matter how unlikely.