avatarby Nick HallSeptember 2, 20160 comments

Elon Musk is under the cosh right now, but things just got a whole lot worse with the SpaceX explosion at Cape Canaveral.

This was a seriously big explosion that shook buildings several miles away. No-one was injured in the blast, which has been attributed to a fueling incident, but Facebook’s Amos-6 satellite was totally destroyed.

Musk took to Twitter to explain that it was a fast fire rather than an explosion. That seems like semantics, but it actually matters.

In a manned mission, the Dragon escape pod would have been activated. With an explosion, it could easily have been taken out along with the Falcon 9. But with a fast fire it would detach and potentially save the lives of the astronauts on board.

The rocket isn’t the reason for the heavy losses

In total, Bloomberg estimates that Elon Musk lost an eye-watering $779 million in one day, at a time when he can ill afford to splash the cash. The really worrying thing is that Bloomberg’s total has nothing to do with the SpaceX inferno.

It has calculated Musk’s losses based on the share values of SolarCity and Tesla Motors taking a dive, as well as Wednesday’s revelation that Musk personally offered to put up $489 million worth of his shares in the companies as collateral to secure badly needed capital to keep the two firms afloat.

The analysts haven’t had a chance to figure out the losses incurred by the Falcon 9 rocket explosion at Cape Canaveral, but they won’t be pretty. The satellite, which was designed to provide internet services for sub-Saharan Africa, cost $200 million.

“As I’m here in Africa, I’m deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX’s launch failure destroyed our satellite that would have provided connectivity to so many entrepreneurs and everyone else across the continent,” said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

“We remain committed to our mission of connecting everyone, and we will keep working until everyone has the opportunities this satellite would have provided.”

How much is a rocket?

We can reasonably assume that the rocket is a write-off too. Even launching the Falcon 9 with a light payload costs $62 million, according to SpaceX’s own figures, so blowing one to bits is going to cost a substantial amount more.

The launch schedule is likely to be disrupted, then there’s the additional testing and the mountain of work to repair the company’s reputation.

It’s fair to say that today has been a horror show for Elon Musk, but tomorrow is a new day…

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