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Blast sets back SpaceX

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.—A massive explosion erupted yesterday at SpaceX’s main launch pad—destroying a rocket as well as a satellite that Facebook was counting on to spread Internet service in Africa.

There were no injuries. The pad had been cleared of workers before what was supposed to be a routine pre-launch rocket test.

SpaceX chief Elon Musk said the accident occurred during the fuelling of the rocket and originated around the upper-stage oxygen tank.

“Cause still unknown,” Musk said via Twitter. “More soon.”

The mishap dealt a severe blow to SpaceX, which is still scrambling to catch up with satellite deliveries following a launch accident last year.

It’s also a setback for NASA, which has been counting on the private company to keep the International Space Station stocked with supplies and, ultimately, astronauts.

SpaceX was working to conduct a test firing of its unmanned Falcon rocket when the blast occurred shortly after 9 a.m. at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The test was in advance of Saturday’s planned launch of an Israeli-made communications satellite that was supposed to provide home Internet for parts of sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.

Facebook spokesman Chris Norton said his company was “disappointed by the loss, but remain committed to our mission of connecting people to the Internet around the world.”

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