The Falcon 9 rocket launched yesterday on a mission to resupply the International Space Station has exploded mid flight, following an overpressure event in the upper-stage liquid oxygen tank.
It is the third NASA co-funded cargo mission to fail in 12 months. SpaceX, the owner of the Falcon 9 rocket, had a sturdy reputation before the explosion, with 18 successful space missions, and recently received approval to bid on mid-level NASA contracts.
The Falcon 9 rocket had supplies, science experiments and Microsoft HoloLens devices for astronauts to relay back to scientists with visuals. NASA has confirmed the US astronauts have enough supplies to last until September, with another cargo mission planned in August.
SpaceX and NASA will investigate the exact cause of the explosion in the coming weeks. Parts of the Falcon 9 rocket were planned to land on SpaceX’s drone platform; the company’s internal project to start recycling pieces of spacecraft for future flights.
Disciplinary action against SpaceX does not seem likely, considering the wide range of potential issues on cargo missions as shown by the three failures. NASA might look to change contractors for the cargo missions however, lowering the volume of potential bidders.
NASA might also look for advanced checks before launching from now on, to make sure no further explosions happen. The worry in some circles is that these explosions are turing the public away from space exploration, which is a massive issue considering the current goal of getting people on Mars by 2025.
This goal seems even further away, with NASA incapable of protecting cargo from an ISS mission. That said, these new carriers being built by SpaceX and other space companies in the next five years should offer more safety to people, more than what is currently available.