An unmanned SpaceX rocket launch ended in faliure within three minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Sunday, in the first major disaster for the fast-charging company headed by Internet tycoon Elon Musk.
Skies were sunny and clear for the 10:21am (1421 GMT) launch of the gleaming white Falcon 9 rocket that was meant to propel the Dragon cargo ship to the International Space Station (ISS) on a routine supply mission, the seventh for SpaceX so far.But two minutes, 19 seconds into the flight, contact was lost. Live television images from SpaceX's webcast and NASA television showed a huge puff of smoke billowing outward, then tiny bits of the rocket falling like confetti against a backdrop of blue sky.
The live webcast of the launch went silent about three minutes into the flight when the rocket could be seen exploding and small pieces tumbling back toward Earth. (AFP Photo)
"The vehicle has broken up," said NASA commentator George Diller. "At this point it is not clear to the launch team exactly what happened."
SpaceX's live webcast of the launch went silent as the rocket could be seen exploding and small pieces tumbling back toward Earth.
Moments later, a SpaceX commentator said the video link from the vehicle had been lost.
"There was some kind of anomaly during first stage flight," the commentator said, noting that the rocket had ignited its nine Merlin engines and reached supersonic speed.
Musk said the Falcon 9 "experienced a problem shortly before first stage shutdown," referring to the stage of rocket flight before the cargo ship would have been able to separate from the first stage of the rocket and reach orbit."Will provide more info as soon as we review the data," he wrote on Twitter.
Musk's California-based company has led a series of successful launches even as competitor Orbital Sciences lost one of its rockets in an explosion in October, and a Russian Progress supply ship was lost in April.
The Dragon cargo ship was carrying 4,000 pounds (1,800 kilograms) of gear to the space station, including a large parking space, known as an International Docking Adaptor, designed to make it easier for an array of commercial crew spacecraft to dock at the orbiting lab in the future.
"Very sorry to see @SpaceX launch failure. Serious ramifications for Space Station resupply. Good thing it's international," wrote Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield on Twitter.
After liftoff, SpaceX had planned to make a third try at a controlled, upright landing of its Falcon 9 rocket on an ocean platform with the goal of one day making rockets as reusable as airplanes.
A press conference was scheduled for 12:30 pm (1630 GMT) to brief reporters on what happened.
Three men are currently living at the space station, including Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko and American astronaut Scott Kelly who began their year-long mission in orbit back in March.
"Sadly failed. Space is hard," Kelly said on Twitter, posting a picture of his view of the Florida coast from space.
Earlier on Sunday, station commander, Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, 57, set a new world record when he became the person who has officially spent the longest amount of cumulative time in space -- 804 days.
His career includes one trip to the Mir Space Station and four to the ISS.
"Padalka has traveled roughly the equivalent of four trips to Mars during his time aboard the International Space Station," said NASA commentator Diller.
Padalka has now made 12,848 orbits of Earth, for a total distance of 339,870,899 miles (546,969,192 kilometers), Diller said.