The unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which carried more than 2 tons of supplies including two HoloLens headsets, was airborne for mere minutes before exploding Sunday morning.
The rocket, named Dragon, exploded 139 seconds after its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Sunday morning. Dragon was carrying supplies to the International Space Station, where three astronauts currently have enough supplies left to last them four months. This marks the third failed resupply attempt in the last nine months.
Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder, tweeted Sunday morning that there had been “an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank. Data suggests counterintuitive cause.”
“That’s all we can say with confidence right now,” Musk continued. “Will have more to say following a thorough fault tree analysis.”
In a news conference, NASA Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier said “This was a blow to us. We lost a lot of important research equipment on this flight.” The rocket, which debuted in 2010 and had 18 successful flights prior to its demise, carried more than 2 tons of food and equipment, including a replacement water filtration system, a spacesuit, and docking adapter. However, he stressed “from a macro level standpoint, the crew is in no danger.”
Also on board the rocket were two HoloLens headsets, intended to help develop a new program named Sidekick.
“Sidekick has two modes of operation. The first is “Remote Expert Mode,” which uses Skype, part of Microsoft, to allow a ground operator to see what a crew member sees, provide real-time guidance, and draw annotations into the crew member’s environment to coach him or her through a task,” the NASA press release reads. “Until now, crew members have relied on written and voice instructions when performing complex repair tasks or experiments.”
“The second mode is “Procedure Mode,” which augments standalone procedures with animated holographic illustrations displayed on top of the objects with which the crew is interacting. This capability could lessen the amount of training that future crews will require and could be an invaluable resource for missions deep into our solar system, where communication delays complicate difficult operations.”
Two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut are currently aboard ISS. More cargo missions are planned this summer, including Russian flights on July 3 and July 22, and a Japanese launch on August 16.
An investigation into the explosion will ground the Falcon 9 rockets for “a number of months or so” according to SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell.
“This is a reminder that spaceflight is an incredible challenge, but we learn from each success and each setback,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. “Today’s launch attempt will not deter us from our ambitious human spaceflight program.”
Scott Kelly, the American astronaut on the ISS, stated “Day 93 Today was a reminder spaceflight is hard. Tomorrow is a new day. Good night from @space_station #YearInSpace” via tweet Sunday.
You can watch the full post-launch briefing below.