Bad news for private space flight aficionados-SpaceX's Falcon 1 rocket lifted off live via webcast last night, and then proceded to blow up spectacularly in the sky over the Pacific Ocean. If you were following along on the official SpaceX website, you probably saw this: "20:38 PDT — We have heard from launch control that there has been an anomaly. More details will be posted to the website as available." The site remains the same this morning, but Space.com has learned that two rocket stages "failed to separate about two minutes and 20 seconds into launch" and the rocket blew itself to smithereens around 11:36 p.m. EDT. The pubs are calling this "strike three" for SpaceX, but it should be known billionaire backer Elon Musk has two more rockets left to prove his private firm is a reliable way to transport satellites to low Earth orbit.
Unfortunately for lovers of cool space gadgets and other tech, the doomed Falcon 1 was carrying several satellites, which were lost in the explosion.
According to Space.com, the Falcon 1 was carrying a Pentagon satellite called Trailblazer for the Operationally Responsive Space Office. Two small NASA satellites were also destroyed, including a solar sail called NanoSail-D, and a micro laboratory called PRESat.
Even with the gaff, which joins two previous failed Falcon 1 launches from March 2006 and 2007, Musk told SpaceX employees the funding would continue indefinitely. Work on Falcon 9, SpaceX's "heavy lifter" rocket, and the Dragon, their human-carrying version, will continue, he said. Something tells me people won't be as eager to clamor aboard that Dragon one as they have Sir Richard Brandon's White Knight and SpaceShipTwo. Just a hunch. [MSNBC.com]