As SpaceX’s investigation of a Falcon 9 rocket explosion on September 1st drags into its second month, rumors are flying that this may have been more than a random technical failure. According to a Washington Post report, SpaceX is considering the possibility of sabotage.

In a Holmesian twist to the investigation of the sudden fireball that eviscerated a Falcon 9 rocket, a $95 million internet satellite, and a chunk of Cape Canaveral‚Äôs launch pad 40, a SpaceX employee recently requested rooftop access to a building owned by competing rocket consortium United Launch Alliance. As industry officials who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Washington Post, SpaceX was following up on ‚Äúsomething suspicious‚ÄĚ it had seen while reviewing video footage of the rocket explosion‚ÄĒa weird shadow and a white spot on the roof of the ULA building, which sits about a mile from the launch pad.

According to the Washington Post’s unnamed experts, SpaceX was denied access to the rooftop, which was instead investigated by Air Force officials who found no evidence of a connection to the September 1st explosion. Gizmodo reached out to SpaceX for more information and received the following statement:

The Accident Investigation Team has an obligation to consider all possible causes of the anomaly, and we aren’t commenting on any specific potential cause until the investigation is complete. A preliminary review of the data and debris suggests a breach in the second stage’s helium system, but the cause of the breach is still unknown. We have sought all available data to support the investigation in a timely manner following the anomaly, as expected for any responsible investigation.


SpaceX‚Äôs official line‚ÄĒthat it‚Äôs simply trying to leave no stone unturned‚ÄĒmay well be true. But that hasn‚Äôt stopped the internet from offering up its own conspiracy theories, including that maybe a guy with a rifle shot the rocket from a mile away. (After all, Musk did say his company is trying to figure out the source of a ‚Äúquieter bang sound‚ÄĚ a few seconds before the fireball!)

I’d take any theories of company-directed sabotage with a very healthy dose of skepticism right now. While it’s true that ULA and SpaceX have had their share of spats, and that the two are now directly competing for NASA contracts, the risks of such an operation hardly seem to outweigh the short-term benefit of making SpaceX look bad. Plus, shooting a rocket from a rooftop a mile away is not exactly a discreet way to sabotage a competitor. Why not stick a mole in the company and make it look like an inside job?


Then again, as Elon Musk noted during his Martian colonization speech last week, SpaceX has already investigated all obvious possibilities. ‚ÄúWhat remains are the less probable answers,‚ÄĚ he said.

Gizmodo has reached out to ULA for comment, and will update if and when we hear back.

Update 4:00 PM ET: A ULA spokesperson responded to Gizmodo‚Äôs request for comment in an email, stating that ‚ÄúULA cooperated with the Air Force‚Äôs 45th Space Wing, and nothing associated with the SpaceX accident was found.‚ÄĚ (The 45th Space Wing commands Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.)


[The Washington Post]