An explosion on a launch pad at Cape Canaveral in Florida where aerospace company SpaceX was readying an unmanned rocket for launch has dealt a direct blow to a Facebook plan that was intended for Africa.
Mark Zuckerberg who has been traveling through Africa this week had mentioned of Facebook’s plan to launch a satellite into space to provide more free internet in Africa. He had said in a Facebook post about his visiting a Facebook Express Wi-Fi stand Nigeria;
“This week, we’re launching a satellite into space to enable more entrepreneurs across Africa to sell Express Wi-Fi and more people to access reliable internet. That means more connectivity and more opportunity for entrepreneurs.”
The Space X rocket which was set to launch in two days had exploded destroying both the rocket and its payload. The cause of the explosion is still unknown, but what is sure is that part of the payload that the rocket was meant to carry is the first Internet.org satellite which Facebook in partnership with Eutelsat wanted to put in orbit.
The new satellite, AMOS-6, should have delivered wireless connectivity to large portions of sub-Saharan Africa, fulfilling a key element of the Facebook plan to provide basic connectivity to the entire world. Experts valued the deal at $95 million, giving Facebook a split share of the satellite’s bandwidth for up to five years.
The plans will now have to be put on hold and even Mark Zuckerberg commented on the lost opportunity in another Facebook post from Africa;
“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.
“Fortunately, we have developed other technologies like Aquila that will connect people as well. We remain committed to our mission of connecting everyone, and we will keep working until everyone has the opportunities this satellite would have provided.”
Such launch payloads are typically insured so Facebook may not bear any significant financial loss but it is still a serious setback to the Facebook plan for free basic internet in Africa and it may take a while for the company to set things in motion again.