SpaceX came up empty Monday in its search to figure out why an unmanned Falcon 9 rocket exploded minutes after blasting off from a NASA launchpad with a load of space-bound cargo.
"Cause still unknown after several thousand engineering-hours of review," CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter early Monday. He said experts were now focusing on the final milliseconds of the flight in order to determine a cause.
MIAMI - An unmanned SpaceX rocket exploded less than three minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Sunday, in the first major disaster for the fast-charging company headed by Internet tycoon Elon Musk.
The accident was the third in less than a year involving U.S. and Russian supply ships bound for the International Space Station, and raised new concerns about the flow of food and gear to the astronauts living in orbit.
Skies were sunny and clear for the 10:21 a.m. (1421 GMT) launch of the gleaming white Falcon 9 rocket that was meant to propel the Dragon cargo ship on a routine supply mission, the seventh for SpaceX so far.
But two minutes, 19 seconds into the flight, contact was lost. Live television images from SpaceX's webcast and NASA television showed a huge puff of smoke billowing outward for several seconds, then tiny bits of the rocket falling like confetti against a backdrop of blue sky.
"The vehicle has broken up," said NASA commentator George Diller.
"The moment they launch again successfully, this accident starts to fade into history really quickly. The longer they wait to launch again, the more people start talking about, 'Maybe we were too overconfident about SpaceX,'" he said.
The Dragon cargo ship was carrying 4,000 pounds of gear to the space station, including a large parking space, known as an International Docking Adaptor, designed to make it easier for an array of commercial crew spacecraft to dock at the orbiting lab in the future.
"Very sorry to see @SpaceX launch failure. Serious ramifications for Space Station resupply. Good thing it's international," wrote Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield on Twitter.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden said the U.S. space agency was "disappointed" at the loss but that the space station has "sufficient supplies for the next several months."
A Russian Progress supply ship is scheduled to launch July 3, followed in August by a Japanese HTV flight, Bolden said.
"Orbital ATK, our other commercial cargo partner, is moving ahead with plans for its next launch later this year."
Three men are currently living at the space station. Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko and American astronaut Scott Kelly began their year-long mission in orbit back in March.
"Sadly failed. Space is hard," Kelly said on Twitter, posting a picture of his view of the Florida coast from space.
Earlier Sunday, station commander, Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, 57, set a new world record when he became the person who has officially spent the longest amount of cumulative time in space -- 804 days.
His career includes one trip to the Mir Space Station and four to the ISS.
By Kerry Sheridan
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015