Explosion Rocks SpaceX Launch Site in Florida During Test

Smoke rises from a SpaceX launch site Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, at Cape Canaveral, Fla. NASA said SpaceX was conducting a test firing of its unmanned rocket when a blast occurred. (AP Photo/Marcia Dunn)
Smoke rises from a SpaceX launch site Thursday, at Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Marcia Dunn)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP/Reuters) - An explosion rocked a SpaceX launch site Thursday morning during a routine rocket test.

SpaceX was conducting a test firing of its unmanned rocket when the blast occurred shortly after 9 a.m., according to NASA.

The explosion tore through the launch site during a test firing of the Falcon 9 rocket ahead of the launch of the communications satellite owned by Spacecom which had been scheduled for before dawn on Saturday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is next to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

A SpaceX statement says the launch pad was clear when the Falcon 9 rocket and the $200 million Israel’s Amos 6 satellite payload exploded.

“SpaceX can confirm that in preparation for today’s static fire, there was an anomaly on the pad resulting in the loss of the vehicle and its payload,” the statement says. “Per standard procedure, the pad was clear and there were no injuries.”

Buildings several miles away shook from the blast, and multiple explosions continued for several minutes. Dark smoke filled the overcast sky. A half-hour later, a black cloud hung low across the eastern horizon.

NASA — SpaceX’s major customer — said the explosion occurred at Launch Complex 40 at the Air Force station, and Kennedy emergency staff was on standby. At the same time, personnel were monitoring the air for any toxic fumes.

The initial blast sounded like lightning, but was followed by the sounds of more explosions. SpaceX is one of two companies shipping supplies to the space station for NASA. It’s also working on a crew capsule to ferry U.S. station astronauts; that first flight was supposed to come as early as next year.

Two NASA astronauts were conducting a spacewalk 250 miles up, outside the International Space Station, when the explosion occurred. Mission Control did not immediately advise them of the accident.

The explosion is a setback for SpaceX. The California-based company, led by billionaire Elon Musk, had been ramping up with frequent launches to make up for a backlog created by a launch accident in June 2015. SpaceX was leasing the pad from the Air Force for its Falcon launches.

The company is also redoing a former shuttle pad at Kennedy for future manned flights for NASA.