WASHINGTON – The U.S. Air Force said Sept. 1 that it would be a part of SpaceX’s investigation into a test failure that led to the loss of a Falcon 9 rocket and the Amos-6 communications satellite.
Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, the head of the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, said in a statement that he is “is poised and prepared to support SpaceX recovery and return to flight efforts.”
An explosion Sept. 1 destroyed a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the Amos-6 satellite that workers were preparing for an upcoming launch at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. While the mission did not include national security payloads, the Defense Department relies on SpaceX as one of two certified providers to carry a majority of military and spy satellites to orbit. As such, the Air Force monitors all SpaceX and United Launch Alliance launches carefully. SpaceX previously helped equip SMC to display the same launch screens and data that company officials see at mission control.
“The U.S. Air Force will continue working with SpaceX to ensure confidence in the safe and reliable launch of critical national security space satellites,” Greaves said. “The U.S. Air Force will not speculate on the cause of the anomaly; however, SpaceX has invited the U.S. Air Force to observe and be a part of the anomaly investigation process.”
The Air Force’s involvement is not unusual. The Air Force certified the Falcon 9 to carry national security payloads in June 2015. SpaceX was not expected to lift a military or intelligence satellite until spring of next year at the earliest when it was set to carry a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates the country’s spy satellites.
Greaves tweeted Sept. 1 that it was a “tough day felt by all in the space community” and that he spoken briefly with SpaceX officials.
— SMC Commander (@SMC_CC) September 1, 2016
When a Falcon 9 carrying supplies for the International Space Station exploded June 28, 2015, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell began sending Greaves updates on what might have happened within 10 minutes.
“Days like today are difficult for many reasons,” Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, commander of the 45th Space Wing, said in a Sept. 1 statement. The 45th Space Wing oversees the Air Force’s launch range at Cape Canaveral. “There was the potential for things to be a lot worse; however, due to our processes and procedures no one was injured as a result of this incident.”