After a thunderous explosion rocked SpaceX’s main launch pad in Florida, destroying a rocket and a satellite Facebook was going to use to beam Internet to parts of Africa, companies are counting the cost.
The Falcon rocket destroyed Thursday is the same kind used to launch space station supplies for NASA. The pad had been cleared of workers before what was supposed to be a routine pre-launch rocket test. “Initial assessments indicate the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and OSIRIS-REx spacecraft are healthy and secure at Space Launch Complex-41, which is 1.1 miles from SpaceX’s launch pad where the incident occurred”, NASA said in a statement on Friday. “Cause still obscure”, Musk said through Twitter. The Air Force stressed there was no threat to public safety in the surrounding communities.
Multiple explosions sent a thick plume of smoke through the air, and it was carried across Cape Canaveral. Local media said building shaking can be felt miles away.
“I am being told the explosion shook the entire facility”, Robin Seemangal, a reporter with the Observer newspaper who was one of the first to report the blast, tweeted, adding that his source at the facility initially thought his office had been hit by lightning. The test was in advance of Saturday’s planned launch of an Israeli-made communications satellite that was supposed to provide home Internet for parts of sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.
“Fortunately, we have developed other technologies like Aquila that will connect people as well”, Zuckerberg said, referring to the solar-powered plane being developed by Facebook to make the internet available in remote areas.
Eutelsat estimated the potential impact of the botched launch exercise at around 50 million euros ($56 million). The company also is working on a crew capsule to ferry station US astronauts.
The company suffered a major setback in June 2015, when its Falcon 9 rocket exploded midair just minutes after liftoff during its seventh space station resupply mission.
“The situation at the Cape is being evaluated, and it’s too early to know whether the incident will affect the schedule for upcoming NASA-related SpaceX launches to the International Space Station (ISS)”, the U.S. space agency noted.
“Lessons learned from today’s anomaly will help improve future operations and continue the expansion of access to space”, said Eric Stallmer, President of the American Commercial Spaceflight Federation.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., whose single space shuttle flight ended 10 days before the Challenger disaster in 1986, said the SpaceX accident reminds us all that space flight is an inherently risky business..
As we continue to push the frontiers of space, there will be both triumphs and setbacks.