‘Possibility of external interference’: Lebanon’s president expands blast probe

By Michael Georgy and Ellen Francis

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s president said on Friday an investigation into the biggest blast in Beirut’s history would examine whether it was caused by a bomb or other external interference, as residents tried to rebuild their shattered lives after the explosion.

The search for those missing has intensified, as rescuers sifted rubble in a race to find anyone still alive after Tuesday’s blast that killed 154, smashed up a swathe of the city and sent seismic shockwaves around the region.

“The cause has not been determined yet. There is a possibility of external interference through a rocket or bomb or other act,” President Michel Aoun said in comments carried by local media and confirmed by his office.

He said it would also consider whether the explosion was due to negligence or an accident. He previously said highly explosive material had been stored in unsafe conditions for years at the port. A source has said an initial probe blamed negligence related to storage of the explosive material.

The United States has previously said it has not ruled out an attack. Israel, which has fought several wars with Lebanon, has also previously denied it had any role.

Security forces fired teargas at a furious crowd in Beirut late on Thursday, as anger boiled over at the ruling elite, who have presided over a nation that faced economic collapse even before the deadly port blast that injured 5,000 people.

The small crowd, some hurling stones, marked a return to the kind of protests that had become a feature of life in Beirut, as Lebanese watched their savings evaporate and currency disintegrate, while government decision-making floundered.

“There is no way we can rebuild this house. Where is the state?” Tony Abdou, an unemployed 60-year-old.

His family home is in Gemmayze, a district that lies a few hundred metres from the port warehouses where 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate was stored for years, a ticking time bomb near a densely populated area.

A security source and local media previously said the fire that caused the blast was ignited by warehouse welding work.

SWEEPING UP

Volunteers outside swept up debris from the streets of Beirut, which still bears scars from the 1975-1990 civil war and has often witnessed big bombings and other unrest since then.

“Do we actually have a government here?” said taxi driver Nassim Abiaad, 66, whose cab was crushed by falling building wreckage just as he was about to get into the vehicle.

“There is no way to make money anymore,” he said.

The government has promised a full investigation. State news agency NNA said 16 people were taken into custody.

But for many Lebanese, the explosion was symptomatic of years of neglect by the authorities while corruption thrived.

Officials have said the blast, whose seismic impact was recorded hundreds of miles (kilometres) away, might have caused losses amounting to $15 billion – a bill the country cannot pay when it has already defaulted on its mountain of national debt, exceeding 150% of economic output, and talks about a lifeline from the International Monetary Fund have stalled.

Hospitals, many heavily damaged as shockwaves ripped out windows and pulled down ceilings, have been overwhelmed by the number of casualties. Many were struggling to find enough foreign exchange to buy supplies before the explosion.

In the port area, rescue teams set up arc lights to work through the night in a dash to find those still missing, as families waited tensely, slowly losing hope of ever seeing loved ones again. Some victims were hurled into the sea because of the explosive force.

‘NOWHERE TO GO’

The weeping mother of one of the missing called a prime time TV program on Thursday night to plead with the authorities to find her son, Joe. He was found – dead – hours later.

Lebanese Red Cross Secretary General George Kettaneh told local radio VDL that three more bodies had been found in the search, while the health minister said on Friday the death toll had climbed to 154. Dozens are still unaccounted for.

Charbel Abreeni, who trained port employees, showed Reuters pictures on his phone of killed colleagues. He was sitting in a church where the head from the statue of the Virgin Mary had been blown off.

“I know 30 port employees who died, two of them are my close friends and a third is missing,” said the 62-year-old, whose home was wrecked in the blast. His shin was bandaged.

“I have nowhere to go except my wife’s family,” he said. “How can you survive here, the economy is zero?”

A pressing challenge for the government is ensuring the nation has enough food, after he blast destroyed the country’s only major grain silo. U.N. agencies were working to hand out food parcels and deliver medical supplies.

Offers of immediate aid have also poured in from Arab states, Western nations and beyond. But none, so far, address the bigger challenges facing a bankrupt nation.

(Reporting by Michael Georgy, Ellen Francis and Ghaida Ghantous; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Edmund Blair)

Gaza rocket sends Netanyahu to shelter during campaign rally: TV

ASHKELON, Israel (Reuters) – A rocket launched from the Gaza Strip at a southern Israeli city on Wednesday as it hosted a campaign rally by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prompted him to take shelter briefly before resuming the event, Israeli TV stations reported.

The Israeli military confirmed the launch against Ashkelon, which is 12 km (7.5 miles) from the coastal Palestinian enclave, and said the rocket was shot down by an Iron Dome air defense interceptor.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility in Gaza, which is under the control of Hamas Islamists and where a smaller armed faction, Islamic Jihad, exchanged fire with Israel during a two-day surge of violence last month.

Israeli TV stations showed Netanyahu, who is campaigning to keep the helm of the conservative Likud party in an internal election on Thursday, being escorted off a stage by bodyguards. The reports said he was taken to a shelter after sirens sounded.

It was the second such incident after a September appearance by Netanyahu in the nearby town of Ashdod was briefly disrupted by a rocket siren.

Israel sparked the November fighting in Gaza by assassinating Baha Abu Al-Atta, an Islamic Jihad commander it accused of ordering the launch against Ashdod.

“He (Al-Atta) is no longer around,” a video circulated on social media showed a smiling Netanyahu saying after he retook the stage in Ashkelon, to cheers from onlookers.

In a veiled threat to retaliate for Wednesday’s attack, he added: “Whoever tried to make an impression just now should pack his bags.”

While Netanyahu is widely expected to retain Likud’s leadership, he faces a tough battle ahead of a March general election in Israel – its third in a year, after he and his centrist rival Benny Gantz failed to secure majorities in two previous ballots. Netanyahu’s standing has been dented by an indictment on corruption charges that he denies.

Netanyahu’s failure to stem attacks from Gaza has been invoked by his political rivals.

“The situation in which Israeli citizens live at the mercy of terrorists and the prime minister of Israel is unable to tour parts of his country is a badge of shame on the security policy in the south – and a loss of deterrence that no sovereign country can accept,” Gantz, a former military chief, said in a statement on Wednesday.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Dan Grebler)

Iran satellite launch, which U.S. warned against, fails

The Payam satellite is launched in Iran, January 15, 2019, in this still image taken from video. Reuters TV/via REUTERS

GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran’s bid to put a satellite into orbit, in defiance of U.S. warnings, failed on Tuesday after the rocket carrying it did not reach escape velocity, as the country’s telecoms minister said a second launch would go ahead.

Authorities in Washington this month warned Tehran against undertaking three planned launches that they said would, by using long-range ballistic missile technology, violate the U.N. Security Council resolution that enshrined Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The United States is concerned that that technology can also be used to launch warheads.

Iran, which considers its space program a matter of national pride, has said its space vehicle launches and missile tests are not violations and will continue.

Telecoms Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi said Tuesday’s satellite, named Payam, was mounted with four cameras. It was intended to be used for imaging and communications purposes and orbit at an altitude of 500 km (310 miles), according to a report on the ministry’s website.

He said the satellite failed at the third stage because the rocket “did not reach adequate speed”.

“I would have liked to make everybody happy with good news but sometimes life doesn’t go forward the way we anticipate,” he said on Twitter.

Another satellite, named Doosti, was waiting to be launched.

“We should not come up short or stop,” Azari-Jahromi wrote. “It’s exactly in these circumstances that we Iranians are different than other people in spirit and bravery.”

Under the nuclear deal – which Washington pulled out of last spring before reimposing sanctions – the country is “called upon” to refrain from work for up to eight years on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons.

President Hassan Rouhani said Washington was waging an economic war against Tehran in order to get concessions on the missile program, but “is not able to build a wall around Iran”.

The country launched its first domestically built satellite, the OMID (Hope) research and telecoms satellite, in 2009 on the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution. The 40th anniversary falls in February.

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; editing by John Stonestreet)

Space crew survives plunge to Earth after Russian rocket fails

The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft carrying the crew of astronaut Nick Hague of the U.S. and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin of Russia blasts off to the International Space Station (ISS) from the launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

By Shamil Zhumatov

BAIKONUR COSMODROME, Kazakhstan (Reuters) – The two-man U.S.-Russian crew of a Soyuz spacecraft en route to the International Space Station was forced to make a dramatic emergency landing in Kazakhstan on Thursday when their rocket failed in mid-air.

U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin landed safely without harm and rescue crews who raced to locate them on the Kazakh steppe quickly linked up with them, NASA, the U.S. space agency, and Russia’s Roscosmos said.

It was the first serious launch problem experienced by a manned Soyuz space mission since 1983 when a fire broke out at the base of the booster rocket while the crew was preparing for lift-off. The crew narrowly escaped before a large explosion.

Thursday’s problem occurred when the first and second stages of a booster rocket, launched from the Soviet-era cosmodrome of Baikonur in the central Asian country, were separating, triggering emergency systems soon after launch.

The Soyuz capsule carrying the two men then separated from the malfunctioning rocket and made what NASA called a steep ballistic descent to Earth with parachutes helping slow its speed. A cloud of sand billowed up as the capsule came down on the desert steppe.

Rescue crews then raced to the scene to retrieve them with reports of paratroopers parachuting to their landing spot.

The failure is a setback for the Russian space program and the latest in a string of mishaps.

Moscow immediately suspended all manned space launches, the RIA news agency reported, while Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said he had ordered a state commission to be set up to investigate what had gone wrong.

Unnamed Russian space industry sources cited by news agencies said it would be hard to establish what had caused the incident because the booster rocket segments involved had been badly damaged in their fall.

Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s administrator who was in Kazakhstan to witness the launch, said in a statement that the failure had been caused by an anomaly with the rocket’s booster.

“A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted,” he said, saying the safety of the crew was the utmost priority for NASA.

Photographs released by Roscosmos after the rescue showed the two astronauts smiling and relaxing on sofas at a town near their landing site as they underwent blood pressure and cardiac tests.

Footage from inside the Soyuz had shown the two men being shaken around at the moment the failure occurred, with their arms and legs flailing.

Ovchinin, the Russian cosmonaut, can be heard saying: “That was a quick flight.”

International Space Station (ISS) crew members astronaut Nick Hague of the U.S. and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin of Russia board the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft for the launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan October 11, 2018. Yuri Kochetkov/Pool via REUTERS

International Space Station (ISS) crew members astronaut Nick Hague of the U.S. and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin of Russia board the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft for the launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan October 11, 2018. Yuri Kochetkov/Pool via REUTERS

U.S. SPACE PLANS

For now, the United States relies on Moscow to carry its astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) which was launched 20 years ago. NASA tentatively plans to send its first crew to the ISS using a SpaceX craft instead of a Soyuz next April.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the most important thing was that the two men were alive.

The ISS, launched in 1998, is a habitable artificial satellite in low Earth orbit which is used to carry out scientific and space-related tests.

It can hold a crew of up to six people and at present has three people aboard, two men — a German and a Russian – as well as one female U.S. astronaut.

“Rescue services have been working since the first second of the accident,” Rogozin wrote on Twitter. “The emergency rescue systems of the MS-Soyuz spacecraft worked smoothly. The crew has been saved.”

A Russian space industry source was cited by the Interfax news agency as saying that there was enough food onboard the ISS to last until April of next year.

The next re-supply run was meant to happen on Oct. 31, the source was quoted as saying, but that was now in doubt since the Progress supply ship was propelled by the same kind of rocket used in Thursday’s incident.

Questions are now likely to be asked about how efficiently Russia’s space program is running.

In August, a hole appeared in a Soyuz capsule already docked to the ISS which caused a brief loss of air pressure and had to be patched. Rogozin has said it could have been “sabotage”.

And in November last year, Roscosmos lost contact with a newly-launched weather satellite – the Meteor-M – after it blasted off from Russia’s new Vostochny cosmodrome in the Far East.

Rogozin said at the time that the launch of the 2.6 billion-rouble ($39.02 million) satellite had been due to an embarrassing programming error.

($1 = 66.6315 roubles)

(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov in Kazakhstan and by Christian Lowe, Tom Balmforth, Polina Nikolskaya, Polina Ivanova, Polina Devitt in Moscow; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket soars in debut test launch from Florida

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from historic launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., February 6, 2018.

By Joey Roulette

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – The world’s most powerful rocket, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, roared into space through clear blue skies on its debut test flight on Tuesday from a Florida launch site in another milestone for billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s private rocket service.

The 23-story-tall jumbo rocket, carrying a cherry red Tesla Roadster from the assembly line of Musk’s electric car company as a mock payload, thundered off its launchpad in billowing clouds of steam and rocket exhaust at 3:45 p.m (2045 GMT) from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, where moon missions once began.

Boisterous cheering could be heard from SpaceX workers at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, where a livestream feed of the event originated. At least 2,000 spectators cheered the blastoff from a campground near Cocoa Beach, 5 miles (8 km) from the space center.

Within three minutes, the Falcon Heavy’s two side boosters separated from the central rocket in one of the most critical points of the flight.

Then, capitalizing on cost-cutting reusable rocket technology pioneered by SpaceX, the two boosters flew themselves back to Earth for safe simultaneous touchdowns on twin landing pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, about eight minutes after launch. Each rocket unleashed a double sonic boom as it neared the landing zone.

The center booster rocket, which SpaceX had predicted was less likely to be salvaged, slammed into the Atlantic at about 300 miles per hour (483 kph), showering the deck of the nearby drone landing vessel and destroying two of the ship’s thrusters, Musk told a post-launch news conference.

‘CRAZY THINGS COME TRUE’

Still, the Silicon Valley mogul known for self-deprecating understatement hailed the launch as a victory and “a big relief.”

“I had this image of this giant explosion on the pad, with wheels bouncing down the road and the logo landing somewhere with a thud. But fortunately, that’s not what happened,” he said. “Crazy things come true.”

While the Falcon Heavy’s initial performance appeared, by all accounts, to have been near flawless, it remained to be seen whether the upper stage of the vehicle and its payload would survive a six-hour “cruise” phase to high Earth orbit through the planet’s radiation belts.

The launch, so powerful that it shook the walls of the press trailer at the complex, was conducted from the same site used by NASA’s towering Saturn 5 rockets to carry Apollo missions to the moon more than 40 years ago. SpaceX has said it aspires to send missions to Mars in the coming years.

The successful liftoff was a key turning point for Musk’s privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, which stands to gain a new edge over the handful of rivals vying for lucrative contracts with NASA, satellite companies and the U.S. military.

Falcon Heavy is designed to place up to 70 tons into standard low-Earth orbit at a cost of $90 million per launch. That is twice the lift capacity of the biggest existing rocket in America’s space fleet – the Delta 4 Heavy of rival United Launch Alliance (ULA), a partnership of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co- for about a fourth the cost.

The demonstration flight put the Heavy into the annals of spaceflight as the world’s most powerful rocket in operation, with more lift capacity than any space vehicle to fly since NASA’s Saturn 5, which was retired in 1973, or the Soviet-era Energia, which flew its last mission in 1988.

Propelled by 27 rocket engines, the Heavy packs more than 5 million pounds of thrust at launch, roughly three times the force of the Falcon 9 booster rocket that until now has been the workhorse of the SpaceX fleet. The new rocket is essentially constructed from three Falcon 9s bolted together side by side.

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from historic launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., February 6, 2018.

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from historic launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Thom Baur

‘NEW SPACE RACE?’

Going along for the ride in a bit of playful cross-promotional space theater was the sleek red, electric-powered sports car from Musk’s other transportation enterprise, Tesla Inc.

Adding to the whimsy, SpaceX planted a space-suited mannequin in the driver’s seat of the convertible Tesla Roadster.

Musk mused that “it may be discovered by some future alien race.” The white spacesuit was real, he said.

A third burn was successful, Musk Tweeted late on Tuesday, sending the Tesla Roadster into its planned trajectory.

“Exceeded Mars orbit and kept going to the Asteroid Belt,” he tweeted.

The roadster, which carries a plaque inscribed with the names of more than 6,000 SpaceX employees, could instead end up in perpetual Earth orbit.

The launch followed an impressive run of successful paid missions – 20 in all since January 2017, when SpaceX returned to flight following a 2016 launchpad accident that destroyed a $62 million rocket and a $200 million Israeli communications satellite that it was to put into orbit two days later.

Musk said he hoped Tuesday’s achievement would encourage a new “space race” by private ventures and other countries, an allusion to the 1960s Cold War contest between the United States and the Soviet Union.

“Space races are exciting,” he said.

SpaceX had previously announced plans to eventually use Falcon Heavy to launch two paying space tourists on a trip around the moon. Musk said on Monday he was now inclined to reserve that mission for an even more powerful SpaceX launch system, the Big Falcon Rocket, or BFR, whose development he said was proceeding more swiftly than expected.

(Additional reporting by Irene Klotz at Cape Canaveral, Fla. and Gregg Newton in Cocoa Beach, Fla.; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)

U.S. says Iran rocket test breaches U.N. resolution

Simorgh rocket is launched and tested at the Imam Khomeini Space Centre, Iran, in this handout photo released by Tasnim News Agency on July 27, 2017. Tasnim News Agency/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran successfully tested a rocket that can deliver satellites into orbit, state television reported on Thursday, an action the United States said breaches a U.N. Security Council resolution because of its potential use in ballistic missile development.

Iranian state television showed footage of the firing of the rocket, mounted on a launchpad carrying pictures of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, and Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The rocket launch violated United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Thursday.

That resolution, which endorsed a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, calls upon Iran not to undertake activities related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such technology. It stops short of explicitly barring such activity.

“We would consider that a violation of UNSCR 2231,” Nauert said at a briefing with reporters when asked about the launch. “We consider that to be continued ballistic missile development. … We believe that what happened overnight, in the early morning hours here in Washington, is inconsistent with the Security Council resolutions.”

Tehran denies it has missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads.

“The Imam Khomeini Space Centre was officially opened with the successful test of the Simorgh (Phoenix) space launch vehicle,” state television said. “The Simorgh can place a satellite weighing up to 250 kg (550 pounds) in an orbit of 500 km (311 miles).”

“The Imam Khomeini Space Centre … is a large complex that includes all stages of the preparation, launch, control and guidance of satellites,” state television added.

The United States this month slapped new economic sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program, and said Tehran’s “malign activities” in the Middle East had undercut any “positive contributions” from the 2015 accord curbing its nuclear program.

President Donald Trump, who this month reluctantly recertified Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published this week that the United States had been “extremely nice” to Iran by saying it was complying with the terms of the deal.

Trump said he thinks the United States will declare Iran to be noncompliant at the next deadline, which is in October. “They don’t comply,” he told the Journal. “I would be surprised if they were in compliance.”

Nauert on Thursday called Iran’s rocket launch a “provocative action” that violated the “spirit” of the nuclear deal.

Iran says its space program is peaceful, but Western experts suspect it may be a cover for developing military missile technologies.

On Monday, Scott Kripowicz of the directorate for international affairs at the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency told a conference in Israel: “Space-launch activities which involve multi-stage systems that further the development of technologies for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) are becoming a more realistic threat.

“In this region, Iran has successfully orbited small satellites and announced plans to orbit a larger satellite using the Simorgh space-launch vehicle, which could be configured to be an ICBM,” Kripowicz said.

“Progress in Iran’s space program could shorten the pathway to an ICBM, as space-launch vehicles use similar technologies, with the exception of their payloads,” he added.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; editing by Kevin Liffey, Hugh Lawson and Jonathan Oatis)

SpaceX successfully launches first recycled rocket booster

A recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soars toward space above a Virgin Airlines passenger jet, which had just departed Orlando International Airport, in Orlando, Florida, March 30, 2017. The launch marked the first time ever that a rocket was reused for spaceflight. REUTERS/Gregg Newton

By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket recovered at sea from its maiden flight last year blasted off again from Florida on Thursday in the first successful launch of a recycled orbital-class booster, then capped the feat with another return landing on an ocean platform.

The unprecedented twin achievements of re-launching a used rocket and salvaging the vehicle yet again were hailed by billionaire SpaceX founder Elon Musk as a revolutionary step in his quest to slash launch costs and shorten intervals between space shots.

“This is a huge day,” Musk told reporters after the launch. “My mind’s blown.”

It took Space Exploration Technologies Corp, as the California-based company is formally known, 15 years to demonstrate that a rocket typically discarded in the ocean after a single flight could be recovered and reused.

The SpaceX chief executive said his next goal is to turn the booster around for relaunch in 24 hours, a milestone he said could be accomplished before the end of the year.

“The potential is there for (an) over 100-fold reduction in the cost of access to space. If we can achieve that, it means humanity can become a space-faring civilization and be out there among the stars. This is what we want for the future,” he said.

The Falcon 9 booster, which previously flew in April 2016, lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at 6:27 p.m. EDT (2227 GMT) to put a communications satellite into orbit for Luxembourg-based SES SA <SESFg.LU>.

The booster’s main section then separated from the rest of the rocket and flew itself back to a landing pad in the Atlantic, where it successfully touched down for its second at-sea return.

“We made a little bit of history today … opened the door into a whole new era of spaceflight,” said Martin Halliwell the chief technology officer for SES, who joined Musk at the news conference.

SpaceX landed an orbital rocket after launch for the first time in December 2015, a feat it has now repeated eight times. The Falcon 9 booster launched for the company’s 33rd mission on Thursday was also the first to make a successful return landing in the ocean.

By reusing rockets, SpaceX aims to eventually cut its costs by about 30 percent, the company has said. It lists the cost of a Falcon 9 ride at $62 million but has not yet announced a price for flying on a recycled rocket.

Not all the savings will be passed on to SpaceX customers, some of whom were awaiting the outcome of Thursday’s flight before agreeing to fly on a used booster, Musk said.

The company spent at least $1 billion developing the technology to land and refly its rockets and aims to recoup its investment in the next year or so, Musk said.

The boosters are expected to be able to fly 10 times with no refurbishment and about 100 times with moderate reconditioning, though the one launched Thursday will be donated to the Cape Canaveral Spaceport for display, Musk said.

Proving the concept works is crucial to SpaceX, which is moving on from an accident in September that damaged another Florida site.

SpaceX also is working on a passenger spaceship, with two unidentified tourists signed up for a future trip around the moon. The company’s long-term goal under Musk is to establish a colony on Mars and ferry people and cargo back and forth between the planets.

On Thursday, the rocket’s second-stage, which is not recovered, continued firing to carry SES-10 into an initial egg-shaped orbit high above Earth, which it will provide television and other communications services to Latin America.

SES received a discount for joining the inaugural run, Halliwell told reporters, but he declined to say how much. The latest flight brings to 65 the number of SES satellites in orbit, with nine more slated for launch this year.

(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by James Dalgleish and Lisa Shumaker)

Islamic State-linked group claims rocket attack on Israeli resort

FILE PHOTO: An Islamic State flag is seen in this picture

GAZA (Reuters) – An Islamic State-affiliated group claimed responsibility for firing rockets on Thursday towards Israel’s Red Sea resort of Eilat from Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, an attack that Israel said caused no damage or casualties.

The Sinai Province group said it fired “a number of Grad rockets against gatherings of Zionist occupiers” in Eilat.

In an apparently unrelated incident several hours after the rockets were fired, two Palestinians were killed along Gaza’s border with Egypt when a tunnel beneath the frontier was bombed, Gaza’s Health Ministry said, blaming Israel. An Israeli military spokeswoman said she had no information about an Israeli strike.

Israel’s military said that of the rockets launched from the Sinai towards Eilat one landed harmlessly in an open area and the others were intercepted by its Iron Dome anti-missile system.

“What is coming is graver and more bitter,” Sinai Province said on Telegram, an encrypted instant messaging system used by ISIS to communicate with followers.

Islamic State-linked groups waging an insurgency against Egypt in the Sinai have claimed responsibility for past rocket attacks in the Eilat area.

Egypt, which has destroyed some 2,000 smuggling tunnels on the Gaza border, has accused the Palestinian enclave’s Islamist ruling movement, Hamas, of aiding Islamic State-linked militants in the Sinai. Hamas denies the allegation.

The Israel-Gaza border has been largely quiet in recent months, but on Monday a Palestinian rocket launched from the enclave drew several Israeli strikes against Hamas targets.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Maayan Lubell and Omar Fahmy; Editing by Nick Macfie and Richard Lough)

Rocket from Gaza draws Israeli air strikes, one person wounded

Palestinians run from air strike

GAZA (Reuters) – A Palestinian rocket launched from Gaza struck Israel on Monday, causing no casualties or damage, in a rare attack that drew Israeli air strikes against Palestinian militant targets.

A 70-year-old Palestinian man was slightly wounded in one of the Israeli strikes, health workers said, identifying him as a passerby. He was the only reported casualty on either side of a frontier that has been largely quiet in recent months.

“In response to the projectile fired towards southern Israeli communities earlier today, the air force targeted three Hamas posts in the northern Gaza Strip,” the Israeli military said in a statement, cautioning it “will not tolerate rocket fire towards civilians”.

Gaza residents said an armed training camp, a security compound and an observation post belonging to Hamas were hit.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the Palestinian rocket strike.

Israel has said that Hamas, the Islamist militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, bears overall responsibility for what happens in the enclave.

Hamas has observed a de-facto ceasefire with Israel since a 2014 war but small armed cells of Jihadist Salafis have defied the agreement and have continued to occasionally launch rockets at Israel. When those attacks occur, Hamas usually orders its fighters to vacate potential targets for Israeli retaliation.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; editing by Ralph Boulton)

Rocket Shot Into Israel From Gaza

A rocket was launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel on Tuesday night.

Residents scattered for shelter as alarms pierced through the quiet night.  The IDF said the sirens sounded in Zikim, Karmia, Netiv Ha’asara and Yad Mordechai.  All of those towns border the northern Gaza Strip.

Radio Israel reported the rocket landed in an open area between two towns although the IDF would not confirm that report.

The rocket attack was the latest in a string of launches at Israel over the last month due to in-fighting among groups in the Gaza Strip.  A salafi group has been fighting against the Hamas leaders in the Strip and their clashes seem to end with rockets being fired into Israel.

Israeli officials say that Hamas is responsible any time a rocket is fired into their nation from the Gaza Strip.

The attack comes on the heels of the United Nations claiming that Israel could be found liable for war crimes from last summer’s rocket attacks by Palestinian groups.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon earlier this month warned Israel would not allow the conflicts between Hamas and the salafi organization to disrupt Israeli life.

“In recent days we received another reminder about the complexity of the situation in the Gaza Strip, a hostile entity controlled by a murderous terrorist organization, Hamas, which is also challenged by terror gangs affiliated to the global jihad,” he said.