SpaceX investigates whether rival played a part in rocket explosion

3 Oct 2016

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launched the Orbcomm OG2 Mission 1 on 14 July, 2014. Image: SpaceX

Following its announced intentions to make us an interplanetary species, SpaceX has begun an investigation into a previous rocket test explosion that suggests its biggest rival may have had a part to play.

While Elon Musk wowed the world with his plans to take hundreds of people to Mars within the next decade, much of the technology needed to get us there is still in development.

One such technology is the reusable rocket system that will drastically cut down on the price of missions, from $10bn to possibly $100,000 per person.

Future Human

Given that SpaceX has had a mixed bag in terms of successful and not-so successful rocket launches, this recent failure has mystified the company’s engineers as to how it happened.

What made this launch on 1 September particularly damaging for the private space company is that it was due to launch the AMOS-6 satellite into orbit, to be used by Facebook and others.

Following the disaster, SpaceX was facing a bill of around $50m from the satellite’s developer, Spacecom.

Strange shadow spotted in footage

Now, having ruled out all the obvious possibilities, attention is turning to its nearby rival, United Launch Alliance (ULA).

According to The Washington Post, SpaceX has been trawling back through the footage of the explosion on the launch pad and based on some still images, SpaceX officials have spotted something very peculiar.

On a nearby ULA building, they spotted a white dot and shadow at the time of the explosion. A SpaceX employee has demanded access to the rival building to rule out the possibility of sabotage.

Having been turned away by the ULA, the rival company brought in investigators from the US Air Force to inspect the building for any evidence, but found nothing to indicate any link to the explosion.

Musk previously spoke of the explosion as the “most difficult and complex failure we have had in 14 years”.

Following this revelation of potential sabotage, his company said: “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.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic