Sometimes rockets blow up

“Rockets are tricky.”

That was SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s response — via Twitter — to Friday’s explosion of a test rocket launched by the upstart company.

The private company is competing with Sierra Nevada Corp. and the Boeing Co. to get NASA’s business ferrying astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station and into low Earth orbit.

Executives from SpaceX and Sierra Nevada are among the scheduled speakers at the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance’s Defense, Space and Security Conference in Seattle on Oct. 8. (Boeing will have a speaker at the conference, but he is from the KC-46 program, not a space program.)

SpaceX’s rocket self-detonated shortly after launching near the company’s facilities in McGregor, Texas, The Associated Press reported.

It was only a few hundred feet above central Texas prairieland when the explosion occurred.

“During the flight, an anomaly was detected in the vehicle and the flight termination system automatically terminated the mission,” John Taylor, a company spokesman, said in a statement, according to the AP report.

SpaceX representatives stressed that test programs exist to root out problems, and that Friday’s test pushed “the limits of the vehicle further than any previous test,” the AP reported.

The California-based company’s Dragon cargo ship has already made several successful supply runs to the International Space Station.

In addition to competing for the NASA contracts, SpaceX this year sued the U.S. Air Force, saying that it should be able to bid for business launching national security satellites — work that is currently done by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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