The explosion of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket this morning (Sept. 1) was caught on video, and viewing it is quite an experience.
The two-stage Falcon 9 and its payload, a communications satellite called Amos-6, were destroyed during an engine test Thursday, which was part of the standard protocol to prepare for a planned Saturday (Sept. 3) launch from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The rocket’s upper stage exploded at 9:07 a.m. EDT (1307 GMT), setting off a dramatic, fiery cascade captured on video by U.S. Launch Report, a nonprofit that helps disabled veterans experience launches and other aspects of American space history. (The explosion occurs at the 1-minute, 11-second mark in the video.)
The initial fireball quickly fills the entire left half of the video’s field of view; a few seconds later, Amos-6 falls to the ground, setting off another series of explosions. More detonations follow over the course of the video’s 5.5 minutes; indeed, about 20 separate explosions can be heard.
Four minutes or so into the video, helicopters start coming in, presumably to inspect the scene and the damage.
The cause of the accident is still under investigation.
“The anomaly originated around the upper-stage oxygen tank and occurred during propellant loading of the vehicle,” SpaceX representatives said in a statement. “Per standard operating procedure, all personnel were clear of the pad and there were no injuries. We are continuing to review the data to identify the root cause. Additional updates will be provided as they become available.”
Today’s explosion marks the second loss of a Falcon 9 in the last 14 months. On June 28, 2015, a Falcon 9 broke apart less than 3 minutes after launching SpaceX’s robotic Dragon cargo capsule on a resupply mission toward the International Space Station for NASA. That accident was traced to a faulty steel strut in the rocket’s upper stage.
The Amos-6 satellite was owned by the Israeli-based company Spacecom and co-funded by Facebook. The spacecraft would have provided internet access to parts of sub-Saharan Africa.