An unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket disintegrated shortly after liftoff Sunday on a space station resupply mission.
The failure is a first for the start-up space company, having conducted 18 successful launches since the Falcon 9’s maiden 2010 flight.
The flight’s cargo included a space suit, scientific research, supplies, and a new docking port for the International Space Station that was to accommodate private manned spacecraft operated by SpaceX as well as Boeing. The future manned SpaceX vehicles will launch on Falcon 9 rockets like the one that failed today.
Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO, tweeted that it appears the problem originated in the second stage of the rocket 139 seconds after lifotff:
There was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank. Data suggests counterintuitive cause.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 28, 2015
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said at a Sunday press conference that the first stage functioned as planned, confirming Musk’s statement that the anomaly occurred in the second stage section. The SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule transmitted data back to the ground following the incident. There’s no word yet on whether the capsule and its cargo survived the incident intact.
SpaceX and NASA will release additional information when they’ve had time to more thoroughly review the data.
Today’s accident is the second one in the commercial cargo resupply program in recent months, with both commercial suppliers having experienced failures. Orbital Sciences Corporation lost their spacecraft in a fiery crash on Oct. 28. A Russian resupply flight also failed in April.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden says space station operations will not be impacted by the accident.
“We are disappointed in the loss of the latest SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. However, the astronauts are safe aboard the station and have sufficient supplies for the next several months. We will work closely with SpaceX to understand what happened, fix the problem and return to flight. The commercial cargo program was designed to accommodate loss of cargo vehicles. We will continue operation of the station in a safe and effective way as we continue to use it as our test bed for preparing for longer duration missions farther into the solar system,” Bolden said in a statement.
“This is a reminder that spaceflight is an incredible challenge, but we learn from each success and each setback. Today’s launch attempt will not deter us from our ambitious human spaceflight program,” Bolden said.