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Setback for SpaceX as Falcon 9 rocket explodes shortly after launch

SpaceX boss Elon Musk sure knew what he was talking about last year when he said that “rockets are tricky.”

The entrepreneur and his team looked on in dismay Sunday morning as its latest mission to send supplies to the International Space Station ended in failure with the Falcon 9 space rocket exploding just over two minutes after launch.

The actual liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida appeared to go smoothly enough. But 2 minutes and 19 seconds in, disaster struck.

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Dramatic video (above) showed what appeared to be an initial explosion at the head of Falcon 9, which quickly engulfed the rest of the rocket. However, it appeared to continue to fly for another 10 seconds before a much more powerful explosion destroyed the rocket completely.

The cause of the incident isn’t immediately clear, though tweets posted by Elon Musk said there’d been a “a problem before first stage shutdown,” and “an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank.”

SpaceX’s rockets will be grounded for several months, the company said Sunday, though it hopes to start launches again within a year.

Falcon 9 and its Dragon cargo ship were taking a variety of gear to the ISS, including food, research equipment, a spacesuit, and a special camera to capture footage of meteors hitting Earth’s atmosphere. It even had two sets of Microsoft’s AR HoloLens device aboard, which astronauts were set to test out for various tasks on the space station.

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It’s the first time in seven SpaceX supply-mission launches that Falcon 9 has exploded, and marks a major setback for a project that’s seeking to drastically reduce the cost of space travel with the creation of a reusable rocket system.

Indeed, with no launch mishaps up to now, all minds were focused on whether SpaceX could achieve the seemingly precarious floating-platform landing it’s been so close to nailing this year.

SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA for at least 12 unmanned supply runs to the ISS.