Falcon 9 Explosion Destroys Satellite, Throws SpaceX Launch Schedule into Disarray

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that exploded on the launch pad this morning while being prepared for a static fire test was scheduled to carry the Amos 6 communications satellite into orbit on Saturday for Spacecom of Israel. Amos 6 was destroyed in the explosion.

The spacecraft, built by Israel Aerospace Industries, would have provided broadcast and communications services from the U.S. coast to Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

In October 2015, Eutelsat and Facebook announced a $95 million deal to lease the satellite’s Ka-band spot-beam broadband capacity to provide communications services to Africa by Facebook’s Internet.org and a new Eutelsat subsidiary.

SpaceX says the rocket exploded while being prepared for a pre-launch static test during which the rocket engines are briefly fired to determine their readiness for launch. The cause is unknown at this time. A statement from SpaceX stated there was an anomaly on the launch pad. So, it is possible that there was a problem with ground equipment that led to the rocket exploding.

The planned launch would have been the 29th of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. The launcher’s record stands at 26 successes, 1 failure and 1 partial failure. In June 2015, a Falcon 9 carrying a Dragon supply ship bound for the International Space Station failed in flight.

The failure occurred during a busy launch year for SpaceX. The company had successfully launched eight Falcon 9’s, the highest number it had achieved in any calendar year. In 2015, the company launched seven times, with six successes and one failure.

SpaceX officials said they had aimed to launch 18 times in 2016. One of those flights would have been the debut later this year of its Falcon Heavy booster, which is powered by three Falcon 9 first stages.

The Falcon 9 failure last year caused a six-month gap in flights. It also caused about a four-month delay in the completion of milestones for SpaceX commercial crew program, which is modifying the Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 booster to carry astronauts to the space station.