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SpaceX rocket supplying space station explodes after Florida launch

An unmanned Space Exploration Technologies rocket exploded about two minutes after liftoff from Florida, destroying a cargo ship bound for the International Space Station in the latest in a string of mishaps in supplying the orbiting outpost.

The 208-foot-tall (63-meter) Falcon 9 rocket, built and flown by the company known as SpaceX that is owned by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, had previously made 18 successful launches since its 2010 debut. Those included six cargo runs for NASA under a 15-flight contract worth more than US$2 billion.

The accident soon after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station was the second successive botched mission to resupply the space station. A Russian Progress cargo ship failed to reach the outpost in April following a problem with its Soyuz launcher. Russia plans to launch a replacement capsule on Friday.

The cause of the explosion was not yet clear, officials said.

"This was a blow to us. We lost a lot of research equipment on this flight," NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier told a news conference.

The explosion also marks a setback for SpaceX, which was poised to compete for the first time against United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co and the current sole launch provider for military and spy satellite launches, to launch a GPS III satellite.

An investigation into the explosion will ground the Falcon 9 rockets for "a number of months or so" but less than a year, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told the news conference.

A preliminary analysis indicated a problem with the rocket's upper-stage engine, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said on Twitter.

The International Space Station crew - two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut - has about four months of food and supplies on board, so the accident does not pose an immediate problem for them.

However, NASA's second cargo transporter, run by Orbital ATK , remains grounded following a launch accident in October.

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Tags:  NASA  SpaceX  rocket  explosion  US  





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