SpaceX's Rocket Disaster Is Even Worse than Elon Musk Thought

By Mike Windle/Getty.

The problems for SpaceX keep getting worse. One week after an unforeseen explosion destroyed both the aerospace company’s Falcon 9 rocket and its payload, an AMOS-6 satellite that was a key part of Facebook’s wireless Internet initiative, C.E.O. Elon Musk is still at a loss as to what happened at the start-up’s Cape Canaveral launchpad.

Investigators have not yet identified the source of the explosion, which cost SpaceX a $60 million rocket, and Mark Zuckerberg a $200 million satellite that was intended to deliver Internet to underserved regions in sub-Saharan Africa. Musk took to Twitter on Friday to share his frustration over the mystifying accident. ‚ÄúStill working on the Falcon fireball investigation,‚ÄĚ he wrote. ‚ÄúTurning out to be the most difficult and complex failure we have ever had in 14 years.‚ÄĚ

The explosion marks the second instance in a little more than a year that SpaceX has suffered the loss of a spacecraft, Bloomberg notes. But unlike previous SpaceX failures, the cause of last week‚Äôs setback is particularly mysterious. The explosion occurred not during launch, but during a prelaunch test while the Falcon 9 rocket was undergoing a ‚Äúroutine filling operation,‚ÄĚ Musk tweeted, adding the important caveat that ‚ÄúEngines were not on and there was no apparent heat source.‚ÄĚ The company has not made public the extent of the damage to its launch facility, or how long it might take to repair.

Musk, who is also the C.E.O. of Tesla Motors, tweeted that the explosion began at the upper stage of the oxygen tank, but beyond that, details are limited. SpaceX is soliciting advice from other organizations that might be able to shed light on what caused the rocket to blow up and are asking for recordings of the incident. The accident could ground SpaceX spacecraft for nine to 12 months while the company determines the cause of the explosion, Reuters reports.

Abigail Tracy Abigail Tracy is a VanityFair.com staff news writer covering Silicon Valley, Wall Street and Washington.