Facebook satellite destroyed in Falcon9 explosion

SpaceX’s goal of delivering payloads to space with re-useable rockets has suffered a blow following the loss of a Falcon9 rocket and its payload during tests.

The rocket, which had not been used for a previous launch, was undergoing a standard pre-launch static fire test at Cape Canaveral, Florida when the explosion occurred.

According to SpaceX, this ‘anomaly’ originated around the upper stage oxygen tank and occurred during propellant loading of the vehicle.

The AMOS-6 mission was set to deliver a satellite that would improve Facebook’s coverage in sub-Saharan Africa.

“I’m deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX’s launch failure destroyed our satellite that would have provided connectivity to so many entrepreneurs and everyone else across the continent,” said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg via the social network.

SpaceX’s quest to reuse its rockets suffered high-profile setbacks in January and June 2015 when Falcon 9 rockets were lost during landing and launch phases. Yesterday’s explosion overshadows notable successes for Elon Musk’s space company, including the successful landing of a Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship in May, 2016. The company has yet to reuse a rocket, however, and recently announced plans to do so in the near future may now be jeopardised after this latest failure.

Commenting on yesterday’s events, Prof Loizos Heracleous, Warwick Business School said: “The latest explosion of a SpaceX Falcon rocket…indicates the inherent unpredictability and risk involved in space flight, whether manned or unmanned, and whether missions are led by NASA or by commercial contractors.

“At around six launches per year, SpaceX is gathering valuable experience, and each accident brings lessons on how to enhance the integrity of the craft for future missions  – for example the June 2015 explosion was due to a faulty steel strut that allowed helium to escape, which led to enhanced checks for future missions and to further development of the software specifically for abort situations.

“Given that SpaceX is working to provide NASA with a way to transport not just cargo, but also astronauts to the International Space Station, it is especially crucial that such learning takes place before that happens.

“With space missions, even the most advanced simulations cannot replace learning by doing, given the multitude of variables involved and the importance of learning from experience. This explosion will not change the long term goals of SpaceX, which are to reduce the cost of space flight through the use of reusable rockets, and eventually to colonise Mars.”

In a statement SpaceX said it was continuing to review the data to identify the root cause of the explosion.