For the third time in succession over the last one year, an unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with payload destined to the International Space Station was caught in explosion on Sunday morning, with no explicit cause revealed by NASA yet.
This is the third cargo mission to explode midair or loose control after one similar Orbital Antares mission explosion in October and another Russian Progress 59 spun out of control in the orbit recently.
Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder, explained it as an “overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank.” He quickly added: “That’s all we can say with confidence right now. Will have more to say following a thorough analysis.”
On its liveblog, it said, “The vehicle experienced an anomaly on ascent. Team is investigating. Updates to come.” Soon, it added another message saying, “SpaceX and NASA will participate in a news briefing no earlier than 12:30pm ET. The press conference will be streamed live here and on NASA TV.
The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 10:21 a.m. and after two minutes the live video showed an explosion with a plume of smoke blurring the screens. It was an unammed mission carrying 4,000 pounds of food and supplies to the space station, whichis currently headed by American Scott Kelly.
When questioned the outsourcing model of NASA after the Orbital mission’s failure, the SpaceX explosion will now arm the detractors of the private operators for such crucial mission in the future, perhaps strengthening NASA proposal recently not to cut $300 million budget as was envisioned by the US Congress recently.
“We are disappointed in the loss of the latest SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. “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.”
But NASA and Russian space agency said earlier that the food supplies on ISS last till the end of September 5 at the most. NASA is evasive about the actual situation as two cargo missions failed consecutively, triggering an emergency situation on reserve food on board the space station.
The next mission to ISS will be undertaken on July 3 by the Russians with 3 cre members onboard the Progress 59. In August, a Japanese HTV-5 will take cargo to the ISS and another SpaceX mission will follow in September. Even, Orbital ATK is expected to launch one more resupply mission this year.
The explosion today will raise questions on SpaceX capabilities though it had carried out 6 such missions so far. SpaceX is exploring reusable rockets unsuccessfully with each mission of late with little success.
After seven successful missions to the International Space Station, including six official resupply missions for NASA, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft lifted off at 10:21am ET from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, for their seventh official Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission to the orbiting lab.
The mission was scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station approximately two days after liftoff. Dragon was expected to return to Earth approximately five weeks later for a parachute-assisted splashdown off the coast of southern California as it is the only operational spacecraft capable of returning a significant amount of supplies back to Earth, including experiments.