SpaceX gave a dramatic demonstration on Friday of why spacecraft undergo such thorough testing. At its testing ground at McGregor, Texas, a SpaceX Falcon 9 Reusable Development Vehicle 1 (F9R Dev 1) exploded in midair during a test flight. Nearby residents saw the fireball and local television station KXXV caught the incident on video. Elon Musk tweeted that the vehicle "auto-terminated," but there were no injuries or near-injuries, and that “Rockets are tricky …”
Following the incident, SpaceX released a statement saying:
"Earlier today, in McGregor, Texas, SpaceX conducted a test flight of a three engine version of the F9R test vehicle (successor to Grasshopper). During the flight, an anomaly was detected in the vehicle and the flight termination system automatically terminated the mission.
Throughout the test and subsequent flight termination, the vehicle remained in the designated flight area. There were no injuries or near injuries. An FAA representative was present at all times.
With research and development projects, detecting vehicle anomalies during the testing is the purpose of the program. Today's test was particularly complex, pushing the limits of the vehicle further than any previous test. As is our practice, the company will be reviewing the flight record details to learn more about the performance of the vehicle prior to our next test.
SpaceX will provide another update when the flight data has been fully analyzed."
The F9R Dev 1 is a second-generation test vehicle rocket based on the SpaceX Grasshopper. Built as part of SpaceX’s program to develop a fully reusable launcher system and spacecraft with all components capable of a powered landing, the F9R has lighter, retractable landing legs and is 50 percent longer than the Grasshopper. It made its first flight last April and is capable of flight operations up to 10,000 ft (3,000 m).