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.

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  • Sam Moore

    This is particularly bad for Amos, they had a takeover set to go that was contingent on this launch being successful. On top of that, the sat this one was meant to replace is currently in year 13 of a 12 year design life.

  • schooner1

    The story reports that this is the 2nd total failure of 20 Falcon 9 launches. A more accurate portrayal would be that it is the first failure of V1.2 which has had 8 previous successes. So 8:9 is an 89% success rate. Going to be expensive to insure.

  • JamesG

    Not a launch failure.

  • JamesG

    Not a launch failure. This was an on pad accident/fire that destroyed the vehicle. Not the same.

  • schooner1

    So I guess it does not count? Under what category do you think it will be counted – an industrial accident? Perhaps a new category: close, but no cigar?

    JamesG, you need to learn from a quote from Douglas MacArthur, “Optimism is denial, so face the facts and move on.” I’m sure that what the space industry (and SpaceX) needs is more cheerleaders.

  • JamesG

    Yes you should face face the fact that you were wrong. And move on.

    Go read the other article on this accident to learn why.

  • JamesG

    But at least it wasn’t their fault, so there probably won’t be any monetary penalties and the launch insurance will cover the cost of the replacement sat. And depending on where they get bumped in the launch schedule, they may look at another provider.

  • Enrique Moreno

    It is very soon to say that this is a failure of the launcher, this is a failure of the launch pad or this is a failure of the procedures before launching.

    Lets wait for a while.

    Regards.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Oh darn! You mean the Chinese are not going to gobble up yet another Western tech firm? What a loss.

  • Sam Moore

    Under the agreement Amos operations are to remain on Israeli territory and be managed through a Luxembourgish subsidiary with no tech transfer. They’re just trying to get some growth while the sat market in Asia is soft, there’s no need for this kind of nationalistic paranoia.

  • Aerospike

    “nationalistic paranoia” is all the rage these days!

  • Aerospike
  • JamesG

    That darn 2nd stage always causing problems….

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    No of course not not after the Lavi -> J-11 transfer, or the near sale of the Falcon AWACs. Everything is just fine as long as it’s only China that looks out for number one. Look, I get what you’re saying, I understand your world view, and even agree with some of it. But you have to realize that we’re being played for suckers by Chinese nationalists who implore us not to act as nationalists. And our business sector laps it up like the suckers they are. And when those effects come home to roost, you get the likes of Trump who will capitalize on it for political gain. I’m sorry for Space X launch, but I would rather see the Israeli company go out of business than transfer their corporation to China.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    A YouTuber/Citizen reporter got some choice video of the event.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BgJEXQkjNQ

    Looks to be something energetic associated with the 2nd stage. Premature detonation of the FTS? Or a rather massive leak of fuel and LOX? That initial detonation has some real power behind it which makes me think FTS.

  • therealdmt

    Man, I hope this doesn’t delay commercial crew.

    Of course, depending on the cause, it *should* delay commercial crew (we hardly need crewed vehicles exploding). Damn.

  • JamesG

    Yeah unless it was fire that initiated inside a tank to produce an explosive burst of the tank, that looks like a detonation not a fire…

  • Snofru Chufu

    too light built?

  • Sam Moore

    Their launch insurance was to kick in at engine ignition, they’re going to have to make do with a lower payout from transport insurance.

  • JamesG

    Yeah, I didn’t think of that… crappy day all around.

  • Aerospike

    It is probably rebelling because it isn’t 1st! 😉

  • windbourne

    hmmm.
    Was apollo 1 a launch failure?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturn_V

  • windbourne

    depending on the cause, you are RIGHT.
    BUT, hopefully, the dragon V2 will remain on schedule.
    And as long as the issue was NOT the F9, then the rocket will not be a big issue.
    OTOH, if it was say the LOX tank, then it darn well better cause a delay.

  • windbourne

    there are those of us that have dealt with national security and have seen what is going on.
    Sorry, but I have dealt with 1-2 chinese spies already who wanted access to ITAR equipment/code.
    And from what I have heard, there are many others doing the same.
    As to the above, yeah, Israel loves to transfer western tech to China. Not sure why since in my book, that simply says that we need to quit funding and sharing with them.

  • windbourne

    fault is not established yet. It could be launch vehicle, lauch pad, possibly even AMOS-6 (not likely).