The Falcon 9 rocket, built and flown by SpaceX company had launched 18 rockets into space since its 2010 debut. The cause of the explosion was not yet clear, officials said. “This is a blow to us. We have a lost a lot of research equipment,” said NASA associate administrator Bill Gerstenmaier.
The accident took place soon after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force 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 3 July.
A probe into the explosion would ground the rockets for many months, but less than a year, said SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell.
A preliminary analysis indicated a problem with the rocket’s upper-stage engine, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said on Twitter.
As the International Space Station crew— two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut—has four months of food and supplies on board, the accident doesn’t pose an immediate problem.
The accident occurred just before the the 208-foot-tall (63-metre) rocket was to abandon its first stage two minutes and 39 seconds after liftoff, said NASA launch commentator George Diller.
The spacecraft had carried 5,461 pounds (2,477 kg) of food, clothing, equipment and science experiments for the station, a $100 billion research laboratory that flies 260 miles (420 km) above Earth.