A 500-tonne rocket travelling 1,000mph has exploded over the Atlantic Ocean as part of a SpaceX safety test.

The Falcon 9 rocket performed a rehearsal of a “rapid, unscheduled disassembly” shortly after taking off from the Complex 39A launch site at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday.

The successful In-flight Abort Test was designed to demonstrate the private space firm’s ability to carry astronauts to safety in the event of a catastrophic failure during its ascent.

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Shortly before the explosion, a Crew Dragon capsule safely detached from the rocket and parachuted into the ocean.

No crew were onboard, though the test now paves the way for the first astronauts to be taken to the International Space Station (ISS) using a SpaceX spacecraft.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded shortly after launch

The explosion took place less than two minutes after the launch. Within 10 minutes, the Crew Dragon capsule splashed down around 32km off-shore.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk described it as a “risky mission... pushing the envelope in so many ways”.

He added: “I’m super fired up this is great. I’m looking forward to the next steps.”

The first crewed launch could be as soon as April, he said.

SpaceX described its Crew Dragon spacecraft as “one of the safest human spaceflight systems ever built” and plans to take not only astronauts but also civilians into space over the next few years.

Mr Musk has previously stated that his eventual aim is to colonise Mars using SpaceX craft.

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