An unmanned American Falcon-9 rocket has broken apart in flames minutes after lifting off from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
The rocket, which had 18 straight successes prior to Sunday’s flight, was in the process of sending a cargo ship to the International Space Station(ISS). There are presently three astronauts on the ISS.
Nasa has a commercial contract with Space X to resupply ISS. This means there will be no further Falcon-9 launches in the immediate future.
Nasa had loaded SpaceX’s Dragon freighter on the top of the Falcon with just over two tonnes of supplies. These included a new docking mechanism that will be needed when future astronaut vehicles – one of them based on the robotic Dragon itself – come into service later this decade.
Recently there were launch failures on two other freighter systems – the US Cygnus ship and the Russian Progress craft.
The big satellite operators effectively only have three competitive companies to put up their spacecraft – Europe’s Arianespace (Ariane-5 rocket), SpaceX (Falcon-9) and International Launch Services (Proton rocket).
Already, the Proton is grounded because of yet another failure this year. And with the Falcon now under investigation, it leaves only the Ariane-5 to service the commercial launch manifest.