The fledgling Israeli space program suffered a major setback on Thursday when the SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket, set to carry the Amos-6 communications satellite into orbit, exploded on the launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida two days before the scheduled launch.
No injuries were reported from the explosion at Launch Complex 40 at the Air Force station next door to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center being leased by SpaceX, though the blast reportedly shook buildings several miles away.
A SpaceX update several hours after the explosion said the occurred during fueling.
Had it been successful the launch would have been a milestone achievement for all concerned. It was the largest satellite ever built by Israel’s space program, and the heaviest payload ever launched into space by a SpaceX rocket. SpaceX is headed by South African entrepreneur, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors.
This would have been the sixth Amos satellite sent into orbit by Spacecom, and the second Spacecom rocket that exploded before launch. They have conducted 25 successful launches since 2010. The company has six more launches planned until the end of the year.
The setback was enormous, as the satellite was valued at over $200 million, and was intended to remain in service for at least15 years, bringing fast internet to14 countries. Spacecom’s stock plummeted over 10 percent on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange within two hours of the explosion.
“As far as the Israeli communications satellite industry is concerned, this is a very severe blow which could place the future of the industry in doubt if it is not dragged out of the mud,” said Israel Space Agency chairman Isaac Ben-Israel in a statement to the press. “This is a blow and the next satellite, if Space Communications manages to overcome the crisis which it will face and decides to order another one, could be in another three years or so.”
The Amos-6 was built by state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
In October, Facebook and French satellite operator Eutelsat Communications announced they were joining forces with Israeli Spacecom to bring fast internet to southern Africa. The communications satellite was intended to be placed in geostationary orbit over the African continent as the first major step in this plan.