A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded on its launch pad Sept. 1, and now rumors are circulating that the “fast fire” may have been an act of sabotage by competitor ULA, which leases a nearby building.
When SpaceX officials reviewed footage of the explosion, they noticed a weird shadow followed by a white spot on the roof of nearby competitor ULA, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
The building, known as the SMARF, had previously been used to refurbish rocket motors and had a clear line of sight to the SpaceX launch pad just over a mile away.
The footage is being kept secret for now, but a SpaceX employee tried to investigate the nearby roof after seeing the video and was denied access; ULA says the Air Force investigated the site and found nothing unusual.
Elon Musk hasn’t accused the ULA of any wrongdoing so far, but no other explanation has presented itself, he told the International Astronautical Congress last week when he unveiled his plans for a Martian colony, according to Science Alert.
“We’ve eliminated all of the obvious possibilities for what occurred there. So what remains are the less probable answers.”
Making the explosion more mysterious is the fact that the rocket’s engines weren’t on; the tanks were being filled, but there was no heat source present to ignite the fuel.
SpaceX officials have described the investigation into the explosion as the most difficult and complex they’ve ever dealt with. About a week after the explosion, Musk asked the public for video and audio recordings of the event, reports the Washington Post.
“Particularly trying to understand the quieter band sound a few seconds before the fireball goes off. May come from rocket or something else.”
The Air Force has so far refused to comment on the explosion citing the ongoing investigation, but has vowed to consider all possible causes.
Longtime SpaceX competitor ULA used to have a monopoly on lifting national security payloads into orbit, until Musk sued the Air Force for the right to compete in 2014. Now, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are engaged in a fierce battle to decide who will win Pentagon satellite launch contracts worth some $70 billion.
Last month, 10 House Republicans wrote a four-page congressional letter to the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force. The letter, which does not have the force of law, asks the federal agencies to take over investigation into the cause of the SpaceX rocket explosion, reports the SFGate.
“These failures could have spelled disaster, even loss of life, had critical national security payloads or NASA crew been aboard those rockets. Both SpaceX failures occurred after the Air Force certified the Falcon 9 launch vehicle for US national security launches, less than fifteen months ago.”
This week, however, 24 members of Congress threw their support behind SpaceX and encouraged the federal agencies to stay the course and let Elon Musk complete his own investigation, reports the SFGate.
“Accidents are unfortunate events, and accident investigations should not be politicized. We encourage you to reject calls for your organizations to abandon established, well considered, and long standing procedures.”
Since the founding of SpaceX in 2002, Elon Musk has been fighting Boeing and Lockheed Martin for access to U.S. military contracts.
Days before the company was to launch its third and final certification flight, which would have allowed it to carry national security payloads, the Air Force signed a deal with ULA for its next 36 launches.
SpaceX responded with a lawsuit of its own in 2014 arguing the ULA partnership was actually a monopoly that was overcharging the government for launch vehicles. In 2015, the Justice Department and SpaceX settled out of court and four months later Elon Musk’s company received its certification and an $83 million military contract.
Then, when Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea in Ukraine, SpaceX asked Congress to ban the Russian built RD-180 rocket engines, which would have crippled the ULA. SpaceX builds its own rocket engines so it could have kept flying.
Fast forward to present day and it’s easy to see why there might be some animosity between the two space travel companies. SpaceX has vowed not to let explosion alter its timetable and insists it will be launching rockets again by November.
What do you think of the SpaceX rocket explosion and the possibility of sabotage?
[Featured Image by NASA/Getty Images]