At around 9 AM on Thursday morning, SpaceX, Elon Musk's moonshot space transportation company, conducted a test-firing of its unmanned Falcon 9 rocket, which was meant to launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida this weekend.
Moments after the test began, the rocket began to smoke. Then, it suddenly exploded, sending shockwaves miles into the surrounding area and causing nearby buildings to rattle. While no one was hurt in the explosion, SpaceX has confirmed via Twitter that the both the rocket and the payload were destroyed in the blast.
It's too bad that the test failed, of course, but there's a more distressing ripple effect from the setback. Had the Falcon 9 successfully passed the firing test, it would have launched this upcoming Saturday and carried the Amos-6 communication satellite into orbit. In a partnership with Eutelsat, a French satellite broadcast company, Facebook planned to use the Amos-6 to provide free broadband internet service to countries throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, where the infrastructure for easy internet access is lacking. Unfortunately, the satellite was already attached to the rocket. Now, it has been blown to smithereens, Facebook is out $200 million, and the project is back to square one.
"We are disappointed by the loss," a Facebook representative told The Verge, "but remain committed to our mission of connecting people to the Internet around the world."
This latest highly expensive failure comes after a number of successful rocket launches and landings which proved that SpaceX was capable of reusing its technology multiple times without accident. In the past eight months, SpaceX managed to fire off five rockets in a row and carefully bring them back down to earth with a shocking degree of accuracy.
While today's explosion might seem like a step backward, it's important to point out that the explosion was caused by an issue with the rocket's launch pad and not with the rocket itself.