The Falcon 9 rocket responsible for resupplying the International Space Station exploded mid flight earlier today, three minutes after launch. It is the third resupply mission to the ISS that has failed this year.
Overpressure in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank was the cause of the explosion, according to SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk. NASA and SpaceX will conduct an investigation to find out why exactly the overpressure occurred.
It is disappointing for SpaceX, who were planning to recover part of the Falcon 9 rocket on a drone platform in the ocean. The recovery mission is part of SpaceX’s own project to recycle parts of the rocket, instead of spending millions building new rockets for every mission. Musk believes this is the key to a sustainable space industry, one that will get us to Mars.
Mars seems like a distant future though, given the high rate of cargo mission failures. The ISS should be fine for the next few months, with food and water supplies until September. The Falcon 9 rocket was stocked with 5,000 pounds of supplies, including food, science experiments and Microsoft HoloLens devices for astronauts to communicate with NASA scientists on Earth.
The investment into privatising cargo missions is not going too well for NASA, perhaps putting too much value on the space industry and safety standards. That said, SpaceX has shown it is consistent, with this being the only failure out of 18 successful launches.
NASA will continue to work with private space companies for cargo missions, potentially opening the floor for other mid to high level missions in the near future. SpaceX has already been cleared for mid level missions, which include launching satellites.