SpaceX was testing a Falcon 9 rocket at a Cape Canaveral launch pad when it was rocked by powerful explosions.
SpaceX was scheduled to do a static test-fire of a 229-foot-tall Falcon 9 rocket with no crew aboard it on Thursday morning, when it exploded shortly after 9 a.m. EDT on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, the company said. (A “static fire” is when they test-fire the rocket’s engines without actually launching it into the air.)
There were no reported injuries.
The blast destroyed the rocket itself and Facebook’s Amos-6 satellite it was carrying. Falcon 9 rockets cost roughly $60 million each, and Spaceflight Now has said Amos-6 cost about $200 million.
“I just heard a boom and a bang. I looked out the window, and the rocket was sort of bent at 45 degrees and I saw dirty black smoke and flames,” a source who’s employed at a company that does work at Cape Canaveral told Business Insider. The source asked to remain anonymous due to security concerns.
He was “within 5 miles of the launch pad” and said the blast reminded him of a giant “fuel air bomb” exploding.
“It was like a video game cut scene. I’ll never forget that image.”
According to Shannon Butler, a WFTV Channel 9 reporter in Florida, the test ended in what is technically called a “catastrophic abort.“
The aerospace company, owned by Elon Musk, confirmed on Twitter that “in preparation for today’s static fire, there was an anomaly on the pad resulting in the loss of the vehicle and its payload. Per standard procedure, the pad was clear and there were no injuries.” Later, SpaceXspecified that the problem originated in an oxygen tank while the rocket was fueling.
We contacted SpaceX for details about the blast, but representatives for the company did not immediately respond.
A representative at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral told Business Insider that its environmental health unit is “monitoring the air quality to ensure it is safe for employees.”
The Cape Canaveral employee we spoke with said the test was a standard “shot-fire test to verify proper engine functioning.”
“They partially fuel it up, just to verify there are no anomalous conditions with the engine. It’s on the pad, ready to go,” he said. “These rockets actually have bolts that will detonate and let the rocket go once they know everything is good to go. But they don’t fire the bolts with [this test]. They just get the engines good and hot, then they cut them off.”
However, he said the first explosion happened at least 5 minutes before the engines were supposed to briefly ignite.
“The explosion propagated from the center of the rocket, from what I saw,” he said. After the initial explosion, he said a second and third blast went off. “I’m still shaking,” he said.
‘It shook our whole building’
Eyewitnesses on Twitter are reporting the test ended with several powerful explosions that rocked the area.
Scott Gustin, the national content editor for Tribune Broadcasting, had a crisp view of the huge launch pad blaze:
Farther away, according to WFTV, the explosion’s powerful shockwave caused some residents’ sliding glass doors to come off their hinges, and caused others to think their house had been hit by lightning.
WFTV said on air: “This may have been the biggest explosion we have ever felt in central Florida.”