During a routine static test in advance of a planned launch of an AMOS-6 Israeli communications satellite, a SpaceX Falcon 9 exploded, resulting in the destruction of the launch vehicle and an unknown amount of damage to the launch pad, according to Florida Today. No injuries were reported since, as is standard procedure, the pad was cleared before the test. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk later tweeted that the problem started during a propellant fill of the upper stage oxygen tank.

More information will likely be forthcoming in due course.

The accident is likely to have an impact on SpaceX’s launch schedule, which is already aggressive since the company has been trying to catch up on its manifest that was delayed because of a previous launch failure. How much of an impact will depend on what the cause of the explosion was and how easy and quick it will be to fix it.

The accident and the likely business implications illustrate the cliché that rocket science is a metaphor for something that is very hard for a reason.

Companies such as SpaceX have been striving to make Space travel as routine as air travel, experimenting with reusable rocket stages. The company has achieved spectacular success in landing the first stage of the Falcon 9 in a series of flights. SpaceX plans to reuse one of those stages in an upcoming launch.

The spectacle of rockets blowing up on the launch pad or in flight has been a regular feature of the space age from the beginning.

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No shortcuts exist to flying launch vehicles and, when the occasional accident happens, learning from it and moving on. Eventually, as experience is gained and technology is refined, space travel will become more routine and less accident prone.

One result of the accident will be an impact on the fuel depots vs. heavy lift debate where it comes to deep space travel. Some space experts have suggested that the expense of building a heavy lift rocket such as the Saturn V or the Space Launch System could be avoided it, instead, fuel depots could be constructed in space to be refueled by multiple launches of commercially available rockets.

Then a spacecraft could refuel in space rather than take all the propellant it needs to go to the moon, Mars, or some other destination.

But the idea is predicated on achieving a reliable flight rate far and above what has ever been reached. The SpaceX accident proves that we are not there yet. But NASA knows how to use heavy lift rockets to explore space because it did so during Apollo. Even SpaceX plans a heavy lifter of its own, the so-called Mars Colonial Transport, for its private Mars program.

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