A massive explosion rocked a launch pad beside the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida during a routine rocket test by the SpaceX aerospace company.
There were no injuries, but the rocket and the satellite onboard were destroyed, SpaceX said in a statement.
The company was conducting a test firing of its unma andnned Falcon rocket, which was due to carry an Israeli communications satellite, when the blast occurred shortly after 9am.
SpaceX said that “there was an anomaly on the pad resulting in the loss of the vehicle and its payload”.
It’s the same kind of SpaceX rocket used to launch space station supplies for Nasa, and represented a major setback for the space agency’s plans for future cargo hauls and, ultimately, astronaut flights.
Buildings several miles away shook from the blast, and multiple explosions continued for several minutes. Dark smoke filled the overcast sky.
TV cameras showed smoke coming from the launch pad two hours later. The rocket was still standing, although the top third or so was clearly bent over.
The explosion occurred at Launch Complex 40 at the Air Force station, next door to Kennedy Space Centre. Nasa said Kennedy emergency staff were on standby. At the same time, personnel were monitoring the air for any toxic fumes. The Air Force stressed there was no threat to public safety in the surrounding communities.
SpaceX is one of two companies shipping supplies to the International Space Station for Nasa. It’s also working on a crew capsule to ferry US astronauts to the station, with that first flight supposed to come as early as next year.
The California-based company, led by billionaire Elon Musk, had been ramping up with frequent launches to make up for a backlog created by a launch accident in June 2015.
SpaceX was leasing the pad from the Air Force for its Falcon launches. The company is also redoing a former shuttle pad at Kennedy for future manned flights for Nasa.