On Sunday, one of SpaceX’s rocket engines exploded during a test at the company’s facility in McGregor, Texas — and now it’s investigating what happened, The Washington Post reported. The mishap occurred during a “qualification test” of a Merlin engine meant to be used during a Falcon 9 launch in late 2018. SpaceX says that no one was injured during the event and that it shouldn’t affect the company’s launches moving forward.
“We are now conducting a thorough and fully transparent investigation of the root cause,” SpaceX spokesperson John Taylor said in a statement to The Verge. “SpaceX is committed to our current manifest and we do not expect this to have any impact on our launch cadence.”
The failure comes at the height of a very successful year for SpaceX. The company has launched 16 missions this year, the most it has ever done in a year and double the amount of launches SpaceX did in 2016. SpaceX also landed 13 of those rockets back on Earth after launch, and it has yet to lose any vehicles during landing attempts this year. Looking ahead, the company has two scheduled Falcon 9 missions in the coming weeks, and it’s hoping to finally launch its Falcon Heavy rocket — an upgraded version of the Falcon 9 — before the year is out.
But now, SpaceX is back to doing another failure investigation, after having recovered from its last big anomaly in 2016. Last year, one of the company’s Falcon 9 rockets exploded on a Florida launchpad during a routine fueling procedure, destroying the vehicle and the satellite it was supposed to carry into space. After grounding its rockets for four and a half months, SpaceX ultimately concluded that investigation earlier this year and returned to flight in January. Even before that in 2015, one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets disintegrated after launch, while en route to the International Space Station. This mishap does not seem to be at the same scale as those two failures, but it is the first big setback the company has suffered in an otherwise picture-perfect year.
Now, SpaceX will be suspending all engine testing at McGregor until the accident investigation is included. The company will also start repairing the test stand the engine exploded on, which should take a couple of weeks. SpaceX expects repairs to be done before the investigation is over, but just in case, the company has an additional test stand at McGregor it can use. In the meantime, the company will forge ahead with its launches, and says it hopes to give public updates on the investigation in the coming weeks.