Launchpad Explosion Destroys SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket, Satellite in Florida

Black plumes of smoke billow over SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launch site at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016 . This image was captured by a NASA Kennedy Space Center webcam. (Image credit: NASA Kennedy Space Center)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and its commercial satellite payload were destroyed by an explosion at their launchpad in Florida early Thursday (Sept. 1) during a typically routine test. 

The explosion occurred at 9:07 a.m. EDT (1307 GMT), as SpaceX was preparing to launch the Amos-6 communications satellite for the Israeli company Spacecom from a pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Saturday, Sept. 3. At the time, SpaceX was conducting a static-fire engine test on the Falcon 9. Such tests, which typically precede each SpaceX launch, involve firing the Falcon 9 rocket's first-stage engines while the booster remains secured to the launchpad.

"SpaceX can confirm that in preparation for today's static fire, there was an anomaly on the pad resulting in the loss of the vehicle and its payload," SpaceX representatives wrote in a statement. "Per standard procedure, the pad was clear, and there were no injuries." [SpaceX's Falcon 9 Rocket Explained]

UPDATE: USLaunchReport has released video of the explosion on its YouTube page:

The Amos-6 communications satellite reportedly cost $195 million and was built for Spacecom by Israel Aerospace Industries to serve as a replacement for Spacecom's Amos-2 satellite, which is expected end its mission this year. In October 2015, Facebook and the satellite communications company Eutelsat also announced a $95 million agreement to lease broadband capacity on the satellite from Spacecom, according to SpaceNews.

NASA webcam images of the SpaceX rocket's launch site — Space Launch Complex 40 — at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station showed a massive plume of black smoke over the pad Thursday morning. 


The Falcon 9 rocket is a two-stage booster designed to launch satellites and SpaceX's Dragon space capsules into orbit. The rocket stands 229 feet tall (70 meters) and uses rocket-grade kerosene and liquid oxygen for propellant.

The first stage of Falcon 9 is powered by nine Merlin rocket engines, while the second stage has a single engine to make the final push into orbit with payloads. It is the first stage of Falcon 9 that SpaceX would have been testing during Thursday's static fire operation.

SpaceX has had a long string of successful missions with the Falcon 9 rocket, with only one major failure. In June 2015, a Falcon 9 carrying a Dragon cargo ship for NASA exploded shortly after liftoff. SpaceX traced the problem to a faulty strut, and made upgrades before resuming commercial and NASA flights. 

Editor's note: This story, originally posted at 9:38 a.m. EDT, was updated to include details from SpaceX's official statement on the explosion, which cited a pad anomaly, not the Falcon 9 rocket itself. It was also updated to correct the launch month of SpaceX's Falcon 9 failure to June 2015. An 11:46 a.m. EDT update pinned down the time of the pad explosion as announced by officials with the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. 

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.