ROCKET scientists love their jargon, and it seems to be infectious. On September 1st, when a Falcon 9 rocket belonging to SpaceX, a private rocketry firm, blew up on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, in Florida, the emergency services announced that the mission had undergone a “catastrophic abort”. It happened while the rocket was being fuelled for a pre-launch engine test. No one was hurt, although windows were rattled several miles away. A communications satellite costing $200m that was mounted on the rocket, in preparation for the planned launch on September 3rd, was destroyed in an instant.
The blast is a setback for SpaceX, a firm founded by Elon Musk, an entrepreneur who also runs Tesla, an electric-car maker. With contracts to fly cargo and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA, as well as a thick book of orders from private satellite firms, it is the flag-bearer for a growing, buccaneering “new space” industry. The explosion was SpaceX’s second big failure in 15 months: on June 28th 2015, an uncrewed Falcon 9 rocket exploded halfway to the ISS.