Explosion rocks SpaceX launch site; payload lost

MELBOURNE, Fla. — A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded on its pad during a test Thursday morning at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. No one was injured.

Witnesses reported seeing a fireball, hearing multiple explosions, feeling shock waves in buildings several miles away at Kennedy Space Center and seeing a plume of smoke rising from Launch Complex 40 just after 9 a.m.

“SpaceX can confirm that in preparation for today's static fire, there was an anomaly on the pad resulting in the loss of the vehicle and its payload," SpaceX said in a statement. "Per standard procedure, the pad was clear and there were no injuries.”

The rocket was preparing for a test-firing of its nine Merlin main engines as a standard check of their readiness for launch, and so the area was cleared for that hazardous operation.

The rocket was scheduled to launch the Amos-6 communications satellite for Israeli company Spacecom at 3 a.m. Saturday.

The satellite built by Israeli Aerospace Industries also was destroyed.

Facebook had planned to use some of the satellite's capacity to expand its Internet.org initiative in Africa.

Kimberly Prosser, director of Brevard County Emergency Management, said the explosion took place on the launch pad at about 9:15 a.m.

“There are no hazards to the general public,” Prosser said.

“We’re monitoring the situation, but there have been no requests for assistance,” she said.

Kennedy Space Center's Emergency Operations Center personnel were monitoring the situation and standing by to assist if required, and the environmental health office was monitoring air quality to ensure it is safe for employees, said spokesman Mike Curie.

At the Titusville Area Chamber of Commerce the explosion startled the staff.

We were sitting here and all of a sudden it sounded like a sonic boom and the building started to shake,” said Denny Waktins of the chamber. “There were a couple of minor booms after that and then we went outside and saw the smoke plume. It was a well-defined plume, not like a controlled burn.”

In addition to launching satellites and International Space Station cargo, SpaceX is one of two companies, along with Boeing, that are preparing to launch astronauts to the space station in the next 18 months.

The Falcon 9 suffered its only in-flight failure in June 2015, when a oxidizer tank ruptured in the rocket's upper stage. The Falcon 9 has launched successfully nine times since then.

Mark Zuckerberg posted the following statement on his Facebook page

"As I'm here in 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.

Fortunately, we have developed other technologies like Aquila that will connect people as well. We remain committed to our mission of connecting everyone, and we will keep working until everyone has the opportunities this satellite would have provided."

Copyright 2016 WFAA


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