An unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying scientific cargo and supplies to the International Space Station exploded two minutes after liftoff in Florida Sunday.
The 208-foot-tall Space Exploration Technologies rocket, flown by SpaceX and owned by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, has made 18 successful launches in the past five years. This included six NASA cargo runs under a contract worth more than $2 billion.
However, the botched mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force was the second successive botched mission to resupply the space station. Officials are still unsure what caused the accident soon after liftoff.
Musk said that there was an “overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank,” as reported by Washington Post. That is “all we can say in confidence right now,” he tweeted.
NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier expressed his disappointment in a news conference, Reuters reports. “This was a blow to us,” Gerstenmaier said.
He added that the explosion destroyed a significant amount of research equipment. Gerstenmaier also claimed that SpaceX’s failures demonstrate the challenges faced in engineering and space flight in general.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stated that the station is obviously disappointed in the loss of the cargo; however, “the astronauts are safe aboard the station and have sufficient supplies for the next several months. We will work closely with SpaceX to understand what happened, fix the problem and return to flight.”
Falcon 9 rockets will not be leaving the ground any time soon. An investigation into the devastating explosion will keep them grounded for “a number of months or so” but less than a year, according to SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell.
The explosion creates a setback for SpaceX. They were set to compete against United Launch Alliance–only launch provider for military and spy satellite launches and a joint venture of BoeingCo and Lockheed Martin Corp–for the first time to launch a GPS III satellite.
This is SpaceX’s third mishap. An Orbital Antares rocket exploded in October and a Russian Progress 59 spun out of control in orbit. These mishaps put significant pressure on SpaceX to deliver a successful flight.