Today’s loss of a Falcon 9 rocket and its satellite payload was a bummer for Facebook billionaire founder Mark Zuckerberg as well as for SpaceX billionaire founder Elon Musk.
“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,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post (of course).
This weekend’s scheduled launch of the Amos-6 telecommunications satellite on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket would have marked the first step in Zuckerberg’s vision of providing low-cost internet access via satellite for millions if not billions of people in underserved regions of the world.
That effort is no doubt on the agenda for Zuckerberg’s current visit to Kenya.
The Facebook-led Internet.org venture has been working with Eutelsat to provide broadband data services to large parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Eutelsat and Facebook struck a deal last year with Spacecom, the Israeli company in charge of the Amos-6 mission, to make use of the satellite.
Amos-6 and its mission went up in flames today, due to an explosion on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The blast occured while SpaceX was preparing for a static fire test.
The satellite’s price tag was reported as $200 million back in 2012, when Spacecom announced it was being built. Such satellites are typically insured against loss.
The loss comes as a significant blow to Internet.org’s aspirations, but not a mortal blow. Facebook has already teamed up with wireless carriers to provide free online services in nearly 50 countries through its “Free Basics” program. And Zuckerberg pointed out that Facebook is also looking at other pathways for low-cost broadband access, such as the high-flying, solar-powered Aquila drones.
“We remain committed to our mission of connecting everyone,” he wrote, “and we will keep working until everyone has the opportunities this satellite would have provided.”
Musk will keep working as well: Last year, SpaceX set up an office in Redmond, Wash., to develop a global satellite network for internet access – and by all accounts, the work is proceeding apace. Yet another venture called OneWeb is working on its own broadband satellite network, with backing from Airbus, Virgin Galactic and several other partners.