SpaceX just failed in its third attempt to make history.
On Sunday morning it tried and failed to retrieve one of its Falcon 9 rockets, the CRS-7, after a supply mission to the ISS, which would have made it the first reusable rocket ever. But just a few minutes after takeoff, two minutes and 14 seconds to be precise, the rocket exploded into tons of pieces. It was traveling about 1 kilometer per second at an altitude of 40 kilometers.
“The vehicle has broken up,” NASA confirmed on its live stream of the event.
Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, says an “overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank” may have caused the explosion and that “data suggests a counterintuitive cause.”
Then it exploded into a bunch of pieces. NASA says it’s still not clear what happened, but they’re officially calling it a “non-nominal launch,” NASA-speak for a failed launch.
Here’s the start of the explosion, 2 minutes and 14 seconds after takeoff. You can see it beginning to excessively smoke.
Poof, it all turns into a giant cloud of smoke about fifteen seconds later.
This third rocket landing attempt by SpaceX held a lot of promise for the science community. Rockets costs millions of dollars to build but, to date, none of them have been retrieved successfully for a further use. Landing them is difficult and every attempt so far has ended in a fiery explosion. So rockets get used once, then never again.
If Falcon 9 had successfully landed on the platform, it could have ushered in a new age of affordable, commercial spaceflight. Eventually, scientists are hopeful that rockets can be launched and relaunched within the same day, the way airplanes are used over and over again.
SpaceX came close to nailing a rocket landing during its second attempt in April. The rocket hovered over the landing platform perfectly before touching down. But then it toppled over and exploded.
Even SpaceX’s first January attempt came closer than its try Sunday morning — that rocket crashed into the platform then exploded.
This one didn’t come close to landing at all; instead it exploded in mid-air just a few minutes after takeoff.
Musk tweeted, “Falcon 9 experienced a problem shortly before first stage shutdown. Will provide more info as soon as we review the data.”
Here’s the full video of the launch and explosion, which begins 2 minutes and 14 seconds after takeoff, and about 23 minutes and 30 seconds into the live stream.