Explosion at SpaceX launch site at Cape Canaveral

SpaceX was conducting a test firing of its unmanned rocket when the blast occurred shortly after 9am (5pm UAE), according to Nasa.
An image from a Nasa camera shows a fire burning on a launch pad after a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded during a test firing in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on September 1, 2016. Nasa / EPA
An image from a Nasa camera shows a fire burning on a launch pad after a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded during a test firing in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on September 1, 2016. Nasa / EPA

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA // An unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded Thursday on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral in Florida during a test, destroying it and its payload, but there were no injuries, the private space firm said.

SpaceX was conducting a test firing of its unmanned rocket when the blast occurred shortly after 9am (5pm UAE), according to Nasa. The test was in advance of a planned launch on Saturday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is next to Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

“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,” the company said. “Per standard procedure, the pad was clear and there were no injuries.”

Buildings several miles away shook from the blast, and multiple explosions continued for several minutes. Dark smoke filled the overcast sky. About 30 minutes later, a black cloud hung low across the eastern horizon.

Nasa – SpaceX’s major customer – said the explosion occurred at Launch Complex 40 at the air force station, and Kennedy emergency staff were on standby. Personnel were also monitoring the air for any toxic fumes.

The rocket was supposed to launch an Israeli communications satellite this weekend.

The initial blast sounded like lightning, but was followed by the sounds of more explosions. SpaceX is one of two companies shipping supplies to the International Space Station for Nasa. It is also working on a crew capsule to ferry US astronauts, with the first flight planned as early as next year.

Two Nasa astronauts were conducting a spacewalk outside the space station when the explosion occurred. Mission control did not immediately advise them of the accident.

The explosion is a setback for SpaceX. The California-based company, led by billionaire Elon Musk, had been ramping up with frequent launches to make up for a backlog created by a launch accident in June last year. SpaceX was leasing the pad from the US air force for its Falcon launches.

* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse

Published: September 1, 2016 04:00 AM

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