Elon Musk calls SpaceX blast a ‘most difficult, complex failure’


SpaceX founder and chief Elon Musk said on Friday he was unsure why one of the company's Falcon rockets burst into flames on its Florida launch pad last week, destroying both the rocket and an Israeli communications satellite it was due to lift into orbit.

“Still working on the Falcon fireball investigation. Turning out to be the most difficult and complex failure we have ever had in 14 years,” Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur who is also the chief executive of Telsa Motors, wrote on Twitter.

A SpaceX-led accident investigation is underway, overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration's Commercial Space Transportation office.

A massive fireball enveloped the rocket on Sept. 1 as it was being fueled for a routine test of its first stage. The rocket was scheduled to blast off two days later.

The rocket's nine engines had not yet ignited for a test firing when a fireball engulfed the upper stage. “There was no apparent heat source,” Musk said on Friday.

The accident destroyed the $200 million communications satellite owned by Israel-based Space Communication, which was going to be used by Facebook and Eutelsat to expand internet access in Africa.

Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX has not yet said how much damage was done to its launch pad, located at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

SpaceX has backlog of more than 70 launches for commercial and government customers, worth more than $10 billion.

The rocket that was destroyed was the second of 29 Falcon 9 rockets to fail. It took SpaceX about three weeks to identify the likely cause of its previous accident, which occurred on June 28, 2015.

The problem was traced to a faulty bracket, which was holding a bottle of helium inside the rocket's upper stage. When the strut broke about two minutes after liftoff, the upper-stage liquid oxygen tank over-pressurized and ruptured, triggering an explosion.

SpaceX replaced thousands of struts throughout its fleet and had successfully flown nine times before last week's failure.

“We remain fully confident in the results of (that) investigation … The current investigation has no bearing on this,” SpaceX spokesman Dex Torricke-Barton wrote in an email to Reuters.

SpaceX's next flight had been slated for later this month from a second launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

“We have confidence that SpaceX will resolve the matter and when they do we will be ready to launch,” SpaceX's customer, Iridium Communications Inc, told Reuters on Friday.

SpaceX said last week it was looking to shift its Florida launches to a nearly completed pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, adjacent to its Cape Canaveral site.

Spacecom CEO wants ‘several safe flights’ before using SpaceX again


The chief executive of Israeli satellite operator Space Communication Ltd said on Tuesday he wants to see “several safe flights” from SpaceX before using Elon Musk's space firm again to launch one of his company's satellites.

In an interview with Reuters, Spacecom CEO David Pollack also said he does not know what caused the explosion last Thursday that destroyed a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket along with his company's $200 million AMOS-6 communications satellite.

The cause of the explosion is under investigation by SpaceX and agencies of the U.S. government overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“They have not yet discussed with us what they found,” Pollack said, referring to SpaceX. “I don't believe that there is even the slightest chance that (the problem) was coming from the satellite … but still nothing can be ignored. They have to look at everything.”

Spacecom said on Sunday that SpaceX owes it $50 million, or a free launch, as a result of the explosion.

Asked what SpaceX had to do to give him confidence to use the company again, Pollack replied: “I don't know how many, but several safe flights.”

Pollack said Spacecom does not have a satellite it could put aboard a launcher soon.

“We don't have a satellite, so I believe until we are ready to fly they will have some safe flights,” he said. “In principle, I think that Falcon 9 is a nice launcher.”

Facebook and Eutelsat had planned to use the AMOS-6 satellite to expand internet access in Africa.

SpaceX is owned and led by technology entrepreneur Musk, who is also chief executive of electric car maker Tesla Motors Inc and chairman of solar energy company SolarCity Corp.

The explosion occurred as SpaceX was fueling a Falcon 9 rocket on a launch pad in Florida in preparation for a test-firing of the booster's first-stage engines. No one was hurt in the explosion. SpaceX said it was not yet releasing images or details about launch pad damage.

SpaceX also declined to discuss Spacecom's claim for compensation.

“We don't disclose contract or insurance terms,” SpaceX said in an emailed statement on Sunday.

Pollack said he was watching television on a JetBlue flight from New York to Orlando and saw images of the accident.

“I saw the smoke after the explosion, but the Cape is a big place. It took a little bit until I realized it was us,” Pollack said.

The loss of the AMOS-6 satellite, which Spacecom had intended to operate for at least 15 years, is presenting the company with financial and operational challenges, Pollack said.

Pollack said Spacecom was not insured for revenue that would have been generated from AMOS-6 leases to companies, including Facebook and Eutelsat.

The company said it expects to receive money from an insurance policy purchased by satellite builder Israel Aerospace Industries to pay off bonds sold to finance the satellite.

Pollack said he is looking at options to buy services on other companies' satellites to fill the gap until an AMOS-6 replacement can be built and launched.

It also is continuing negotiations with Beijing Xinwei Technology Group Co Ltd, which had planned to acquire Spacecom in a deal valued at $285 million pending the successful launch and operation of the AMOS-6 satellite.

Israeli team signs first launch deal in Google moon race


An Israeli team competing in a race to the moon sponsored by Google has signed a with California-based SpaceX for a rocket launch, putting it at the front of the pack and on target for blast-off in late 2017, officials said on Wednesday.

With the deadline to win a $20 million first-place prize just two years off, pressure is mounting on the 16 rivals from around the world hoping to complete a privately funded moon landing.

Silicon Valley's Moon Express announced a week ago that it had signed a contract with Lockheed Martin-backed Rocket Lab. But Israel's SpaceIL is the first team to have a launch agreement reviewed, verified and accepted by XPRIZE, the group overseeing the contest.

“The magnitude of this achievement cannot be overstated,” said XPRIZE President Bob Weiss. “This is the official milestone that the race is on … They've lit the fuse, as it were, for their competitive effort.”

The key hurdle was finding an affordable ride to outer space without government funding, said Eran Privman, CEO of SpaceIL.

Because his team's spacecraft is much smaller than most competitors – it looks like a robotic, four-legged table, about 1.5 meters tall and wide – the SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher can carry 20 small satellites whose fares will help cover costs, Privman said.

“Other teams are trying to find such solutions,” he said.

SpaceX is a private company owned and operated by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Much work remains. SpaceIL must manufacture hardware to fit the rocket and only then can it be shipped to the United States, Privman said.

The mission is scheduled for late 2017, just before the contest deadline. Once exiting the rocket in space, the Israeli craft will make its journey to the moon.

To win, a privately funded team must place an unmanned spacecraft on the moon's surface that can explore 500 meters and transmit high-definition video and images back to earth.

Obama first, Netanyahu 23rd on Forbes most powerful list


President Obama for the second straight year was named the world's most powerful person by Forbes magazine, which placed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 23rd on the list.

The list includes 71 individuals — one for every 100 million people on the planet.

Other notable Jews on the list included Ben Bernanke, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, at No. 6; New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at 16; Google co-founder Sergey Brin, at 20; Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, at 25; and Goldman-Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, at 36.

Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, which develops and manufactures space launch vehicles, at age 41 is among the youngest on the list and appears at No. 66.

Following Obama in the top 10 are German Chancellor Angela Merkel; Russian President Vladimir Putin; Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates; Pope Benedict XVI; King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia; European Central Bank President Mario Draghi; Xi Jinping, the secretary-general of China's Communist Party; and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Iran's Grand Ayatollah Khamenei finished two slots ahead of Netanyahu.