SpaceX rocket explodes during pre-launch destroys satellite

A Falcon 9 rocket of private US space transportation company SpaceX has exploded during a pre-launch test at Cape Canaveral, destroying a satellite it was due to deliver to orbit.

The explosion, described as "significant" by a spokesman for Cape Canaveral Air Force Station took place at 9am ET (14:00 GMT) at Launch Complex 40, which is leased by SpaceX.

According to SpaceX, no one was injured, but the mishap destroyed not only the rocket but also a telecommunications satellite owned by Israeli firm Spacecom, which it was due to launch on Saturday morning.

SpaceX attributed the explosion - which was felt at a distance of several kilometres away - to "an anomaly". No further details have yet been made available.

It was not immediately known if SpaceX's launch pad was damaged or what the impact would be on the dozens of satellite missions on its launch schedule.

SpaceX had recovered from a June 2015 launch accident that destroyed a cargo load headed for the International Space Station.

The pad where SpaceX's rocket was being prepared for launch is one of two operated by the company. Its other launch site is at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The accident comes only two days after the firm announced it had found the first commercial customer to launch on a previously flown rocket. SpaceX is developing reusable rockets that can be used multiple times, similar to planes or cars, in order to slash the cost of space travel.

This year, the company successfully landed several Falcon 9 first stages, which it is now refurbishing for further use.

The first satellite to launch on a previously flown rocket will be a craft from Luxembourg-based telecommunications company SES. The launch is expected to take place by the end of 2016.

The exploded Falcon 9 was a new device that has not been previously flown.

According to local authorities, today’s explosion, which sent a thick plume of smoke into the air, didn’t present any risk to residents.

"There is NO [sic] threat to general public from catastrophic abort during static test fire at SpaceX launch pad," the Brevard County Emergency Management Office said in a tweet.

According to Loizos Heracleous from Warwick Business School who previously cooperated with Nasa, the accident - while unfortunate - is part of SpaceX's learning journey that will hopefully lead to safer and more reliable rockets in future when the company starts ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station.

“For example, the June 2015 explosion was due to a faulty steel strut that allowed helium to escape, which led to enhanced checks for future missions and to further development of the software specifically for abort situations,” Heracleous commented.

"With space missions, even the most advanced simulations cannot replace learning by doing, given the multitude of variables involved and the importance of learning from experience. This explosion will not change the long-term goals of SpaceX, which are to reduce the cost of space flight through the use of reusable rockets and eventually to colonise Mars."

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