SpaceX's robotic Dragon capsule blasted off atop the company's two-stage Falcon 9 rocket as planned today at 10:21 a.m. EDT (1421 GMT) from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, headed for the orbiting lab. But something went wrong about two minutes into the flight, and the rocket broke apart, raining debris out of the sky.
"There was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank. Data suggests counterintuitive cause, " SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said via Twitter today, which is, incidentally, his 44th birthday. "That's all we can say with confidence right now. Will have more to say following a thorough fault tree analysis." [See photos from the SpaceX cargo launch]
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on June 28, headed to the International Space Station. The rocket and capsule exploded shortly after liftoff.
Credit: NASA TV/Space.com
SpaceX holds a $1.6 billion NASA contract to fly at least 12 unmanned supply runs to the space station. Today's liftoff kicked off mission number seven; the previous six flights had all been successful.
Dragon was carrying more than 4, 000 lbs. (1, 814 kilograms) of food, supplies and scientific experiments. The scientific gear included high-resolution cameras designed to observe and study meteors as they plow into Earth's atmosphere, as well as equipment that would have helped researchers better understand which microbes are present inside the space station, and how these organisms change and adapt over time.
Today's accident follows closely on the heels of two other cargo-mission failures. Orbital ATK's Antares rocket exploded shortly after liftoff this past October, scuttling the company's third robotic cargo mission. (Orbital ATK holds a $1.9 billion deal with NASA to make eight supply flights using Antares and its Cygnus spacecraft.)
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