SpaceX rocket explodes minutes after launch

SpaceX CRS-7 lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 1021 a.m. EDT. After liftoff, an anomaly occurred
SpaceX CRS-7 lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 1021 a.m. EDT. After liftoff, an anomaly occurred causing the rocket to explode - Image courtesy of NASA Kennedy Space Center.

The latest launch of SpaceX’s Falcoln 9 has ended in failure with the rocket exploding just minutes into its launch.

Launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the rocket reached a height of 44.9km 139 seconds into its flight, before suffering a catastrophic failure.

Debris from the failed Falcon 9 rocket falls back to Earth. Image courtesy of NASA Kennedy Space Center.
Debris from the failed Falcon 9 rocket falls back to Earth. Image courtesy of NASA Kennedy Space Center.

The problem itself originated in the craft’s upper stage, when gasses appeared to violently vent from the rocket prior to stage separation.

“There was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank,” tweeted SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk. “That’s all we can say with confidence right now.”

Despite SpaceX having a reputation for reliable rockets, space launches are incredibly risky, and failures of these types are to be expected.

“Rockets do occasionally go wrong, they are tuned to get the most out of the high energy fuel they contain while keeping enough mass available for the payload. Most rocket launches go very well these days, but something going wrong is not beyond the bounds of possibility,” explained Russel Boyce, Chair for Space Engineering at the University of New South Wales.

This latest SpaceX mission carried vital parts and supplies to the International Space Station. These include food, water, and a new docking apparatus intended for future missions.

While this was the first time SpaceX’s Falcon 9v1.1 rocket has suffered such a catastrophic failure, it comes on the back of a series of recent failed launches by the company’s competitors.

Last year, Orbital Sciences’ Antares exploded just moments after takeoff, and then in May this year, a Russian Proton rocket crashed back to Earth destroying its payload.

ISS situation critical

The failed delivery by SpaceX to the ISS is problematic for the space station due to a previous failure by the Russian Progress resupply craft.

Before yesterday’s accident, ISS stores were good till October, however now the situation is critical.

Much rests on a second attempt by the Russians to resupply the ISS next Friday. Should this fail, it is unclear if the ISS could continue to operate at normal levels.