The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft breaks apart shortly after liftoff at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on June 28, 2015.
Photo by John Raoux/AP

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket breaks up after launch with space station cargo

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket exploded and broke up on Sunday just minutes after its launch with a robotic Dragon cargo capsule headed for the International Space Station. It was the third failure of a space station resupply mission in eight months.

The Falcon took off right on time after a seemingly flawless countdown, rising into the sunny skies over Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florda at 10:21 a.m. ET. But a little more than two minutes after liftoff, video showed the Falcon disintegrating in a blast.

“We appear to have had a launch vehicle failure,” NASA spokesman George Diller reported. Air Force officials said the rocket “experienced an anomaly” 148 seconds into the flight.

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Debris from the breakup fell into the Atlantic Ocean without doing damage on the ground. NASA and SpaceX were gathering information about the failure, and details are to be provided at a 12:30 p.m. ET NASA news conference.

The mission’s primary objective was to deliver the Dragon to the space station with more than two and a half tons of supplies, equipment and experiments — ranging from a new docking adapter for accommodating future U.S.-built spaceships to a virtual-reality headset for the station’s crew.

This was to have been the first robotic cargo delivery since a Russian Progress capsule went awry in late April, resulting in the loss of the robotic craft’s 3-ton payload. The Dragon’s payload included food, oxygen and other much-needed basics — and its loss will put even more pressure on the crew and mission planners.

After stage separation, the Falcon 9’s first stage was supposed to attempt a landing on a platform about 215 miles (345 kilometers) downrange in the Atlantic — but the flight never got that far.

The Dragon previously made six successful cargo runs under the terms of a $1.6 billion contract with NASA, plus an initial demonstration mission in 2012. The last of those successful launches occurred in April.

Sunday’s loss marked SpaceX’s first failed mission to the space station, and extended a string of setbacks for space station resupply. In addition to April’s Progress failure, Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Antares rocket malfunctioned after launch in October, resulting in the loss of yet another space station shipment.

Orbital’s Antares and its Cygnus cargo capsule are not yet ready to go back into operation, but another Progress ship is due to be sent to the station from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on July 3.

Even if no cargo ships show up, “we’re good to the October time frame,” Mike Suffredini, NASA’s space station program manager, told reporters on Friday.

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NASA and Space

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket breaks up after launch with space station cargo