WATCH THIS: SpaceX rocket explodes immediately after take-off

Any hope that third time would be the charm for reusable rockets literally went up in smoke on Sunday, when the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded 2mins 19secs into its mission. It was unmanned, so there were no casualties, although it was carrying more than 4,000lbs of food and supplies to the International Space Station.

SpaceX founder – the billionaire PayPal and Tesla co-founder Elon Musk – wrote in a tweet that “there was an overpressure event in the upper-stage liquid oxygen tank.”

A more thorough analysis will be carried out, but at the time of writing Musk says the cause is “still unknown” following “several thousand engineering-hours of review.”

It’s a setback for reusable rockets, which aim to make space travel significantly more affordable. As things stand, rockets cost millions to build and are good for only a single use. One of the aims of SpaceX is to make a rocket that make journeys time-and-time again, in the same way we fly planes.

Previous attempts to land on ISS, although unsuccessful, have come significantly closer than Sunday’s effort. The first rocket, back in January, landed too hard, while the one in April did manage to touch down, before tipping and exploding.

NASA remains optimistic that these problems can be overcome. In a statement, the space agency said, “SpaceX has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first six cargo resupply missions to the station, and we know they can replicate that success. We will work with, and support, SpaceX to assess what happened, understand the specifics of the failure and correct it to move forward. This is a reminder that spaceflight is an incredible challenge, but we learn from each success and each setback. Today’s launch attempt will not deter us from our ambitious human spaceflight program.”

Hopefully this optimism isn’t misplaced. With the retirement of the space shuttle, NASA has to rely on contractors such as SpaceX and Boeing in the future, and mishaps such as this don’t inspire confidence.

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