Just over a month ago, on the 1st of September to be precise, SpaceX’s rocket known as Falcon 9 exploded while it was been readied for a test run before an actual launch that was scheduled in a few days time.
The SpaceX project was particularly of interest to poor countries around the world like Nigeria because it was to be used to ferry an interesting satellite into orbit. This satellite was built to provide cheaper high speed internet signals to some poor countries around the world.
The satellite known as Amos 6, was close to the explosion when it happened. It was completely destroyed. Facebook in partnership with Eutelsat Communications had already committed a huge amount money to lease the satellite. Facebook’s commitment was for 5 years.
Since the explosion, questions have been flying around about what caused the the explosion of the rocket built by a company owned by Elon Musk, the billionaire who is best known as the CEO of Tesla Motors.
One of the questions point to a sort of sabotage from Musk’s direct competition in the rocket business.
SpaceX, in conjunction with the authorities have been coordinating investigations to find out the cause of the explosion. It was during these investigations that theories about a possible sabotage began to fly around.
For instance, one report quoting anonymous sources, claimed that engineers and support staff working for SpaceX saw unusual movements and objects (on the day of the explosion) on the roof of a building close the the site where the rocket was supposed to blast off from.
This building is owned by United Launch Alliance, ULA.
ULA was founded in 2006 as a partnership between Lockheed Martins Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space and Security. Their services include the provision of rockets to launch objects like satellite into orbit for the government of the United States.
Two of the biggest US departments, the Department of Defense and NASA (the biggest space exploration agency in the world) among other big agencies and private organizations are all clients of ULA.
ULA was the undisputed monopolist in area of the provision of these sort of services for over ten years. This monopoly was broken when a lucrative GPS satellite contract was awarded to SpaceX this year.
This effectively made the two companies biter rivals chasing a shrinking or limited customer base.
SpaceX investigators visited the building and asked to be allowed access to the roof to inspect it. Perhaps it was this move by SpaceX personal that proved the investigators from SpaceX took the idea of a sabotage by ULA very seriously.
The workers at ULA refused to grant SpaceX investigators access of the roof of the building.
The official investigators from the US Air Force were called in to intervene. They were allowed access to the roof. Nothing came off that investigation.
Though this is the not the first time expensive rockets have exploded with many fatalities, what made this unique is the fact that the engines were switched off when the explosion occurred.
Typically, most rocket explosions occur when the engines are in full throttle. For Falcon 9 though, all that was being done was getting it ready to be refueled for a test run. In other words, the source of the heat likely to have caused an explosion must have come from an external source.
Whether it was a sabotage or not, the simple fact remains that the Amos-6 satellite never got a chance to do what it was meant to do. The net result been that the idea of some disadvantaged third world communities getting cheaper access to high speed exploded into nothing.
What would have been five years, with the possibility of more years to be added, of quality broadband access to the World Wide Web was instantly turned into more frustrating years of waiting for better and cheaper internet access.
image credit: New York Magazine; Blog@GyanLab.com; SpaceNews; Wikipedia