Elon Musk did not have a good birthday on Sunday as he watched his SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket explode shortly after launch, the third time a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) has ended in failure in recent months.
On Sunday at 10:51 a.m., the 208-foot-tall Falcon 9 reusable rocket designed by Musk’s Exploration Technologies took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida with a Dragon capsule carrying more than two and half tons of supplies for the ISS’s three-astronaut crew in tow.
Roughly two and a half minutes after takeoff, the unmanned aircraft exploded into a giant white cloud. Debris from the rocket was seen raining down into the water by spectators.
In the video below, the rocket begins to explode at the 3:20 mark.
Elon Musk tweeted that the malfunction was caused by overpressure in the upper stage of the liquid oxygen tank. SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell confirmed the problem occurred in the second stage, but did not want to disclose any additional information until a thorough analysis had been conducted.
The aircraft failure marks the third time a cargo has failed to reach the International Space Station in eight months.
Last year in October, the Antares Cargo rocket, constructed by Orbital ATK, blew up just seconds after takeoff, causing a loss of over 5,000 pounds of supplies and scientific experiments. In April, a similar failure occurred when the Progress M27-M Russian cargo ship gyrated out of control and lost all of the materials on board.
NASA officials say that there is no commonality among the three lost cargo ships, besides the simple fact that space is difficult to fly into.
NASA’s top spaceflight official, William Gerstenmaier, said that the three astronauts — American Scott J. Kelly and two Russians, Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko — currently housed at the space station are at a good standpoint concerning food and water.
Although NASA likes to have a six-month cushion of food and water supplies, the current four-month supply will be replenished with the arrival of the next cargo mission set to launch this Friday.
The Progress 60P Cargo Craft is the re-designed version of the aircraft that was lost earlier this year. Gerstenmaier says that the Russians have solved the problem they had with the Progress M27-M aircraft and intend on a better result than the Falcon 9 launch Sunday.
Sunday’s failed Falcon 9 mission was part of a $1.6 billion NASA contract awarded to SpaceX in 2008 for 12 resupply flights to the ISS.