An explosion rocked the SpaceX launchpad at NASA's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 9 a.m. Thursday morning, according to the Associated Press. The blast occurred during a routine rocket test as part of plans to launch a communications satellite.
No one was injured, but the Falcon 9 rocket and the satellite were destroyed. The test was being conducted in advance of a planned satellite launch on Saturday. The rocket was carrying a $200 million communications satellite, the AMOS-6, made by the Israelis, which was supposed to provide home Internet for Africa and the Middle East.
The initial blast rocked buildings that were miles away, and the first explosion was followed by multiple explosions that went on for several minutes, according to AP. A massive plume of black smoke has been streaming from the site since then.
The incident occurred during a tanking test, according to SpaceX. A tanking test involves "a full propellant loading sequence, launch countdown operations, engine ignition operations and testing of the pad’s high volume water deluge system – providing a full dress rehearsal for the actual launch."
Losing a rocket just as the company was making major strides toward truly establishing itself as a private commercial spaceflight outfit — including having successfully launched and landed a rocket last month and having signed a deal to have a company actually use one of its reusable rockets in a launch just days ago — is a huge setback for SpaceX. This explosion will necessarily delay any SpaceX launches for months, including the first launch of the Falcon Heavy, the newest SpaceX spacecraft.
It's also a blow to NASA, which has been counting on private companies like SpaceX to take over flying to the International Space Station, supplying the ISS with both supplies and, ultimately, with astronauts.
This also could spell a potential setback for the Johnson Space Center. It will be a few years before NASA's new Mars-focused spacecrafts are ready to actually launch astronauts into space, and until then the JSC, home of manned spaceflight, is supposed to be able to keep working with astronauts and sending them up on private commercial craft like those being made by SpaceX. That gets delayed every time there's a mishap like this one. Nobody wants to see this kind of accident happen with actual astronauts aboard.
SpaceX issued a brief explanation of what happened, stating that "there was an anomaly on the pad resulting in the loss of the vehicle and its payload."
NASA released its own vague, brief statement about the explosion. The federal space agency has "no direct information" about the explosion, but is monitoring the situation and standing by if help is needed.