Rocket and satellite destroyed in explosion during test
A rocket and its onboard satellite have been destroyed in a massive explosion which rocked a SpaceX launch pad during a routine test for a planned launch.
The company, which said there were no injuries, was conducting a test firing of its unmanned Falcon rocket when the blast occurred shortly after 9am.
The blast in Florida shook buildings several miles away, and multiple explosions continued for several minutes.
Dark smoke filled the overcast sky and a black cloud hung low across the eastern horizon half an hour later.
TV cameras showed smoke coming from the launch pad two hours later. The rocket was still standing, although the top third or so was clearly bent over.
The explosion occurred at Launch Complex 40 at the Air Force station, right next door to Kennedy Space Centre.
Nasa said Kennedy emergency staff were on standby and personnel were monitoring the air for any toxic fumes.
The air force stressed there was no threat to public safety in the surrounding communities.
Next-door Nasa employees rushing frantically outside to see what had happened after the first blast. At first it sounded like lightning but more explosions followed.
The test was made ahead of a planned Saturday launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is next to Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre.
It was supposed to hoist an Israeli communications satellite.
SpaceX said that in preparation for Thursday's engine firing - a test carried out a few days before every launch - "there was an anomaly on the pad resulting in the loss of the vehicle and its payload."
The SpaceX rocket is the same kind used to launch space station supplies for Nasa.
Its destruction represented a major setback for the space agency's plans for future cargo hauls and astronaut flights.
SpaceX is one of two companies which ships supplies to the International Space Station for Nasa. It is also working on a crew capsule to ferry station US astronauts; that first flight was supposed to come as early as next year.
Two Nasa astronauts were conducting a spacewalk 250 miles up, outside the International Space Station, when the explosion occurred.
Mission Control did not notify them of the accident, saying all communication was focused on the spacewalk.
The explosion is a major blow for SpaceX and for Nasa, which relies on the company to keep the space station equipped with food, science experiments and other supplies.
The California-based company, led by billionaire Elon Musk, had been ramping up with frequent launches to make up for a backlog created by a launch accident in June 2015.
SpaceX was leasing the pad from the air force for its Falcon launches.
The company is also redoing a former shuttle pad at Kennedy for future manned flights for Nasa.