Internet.org Africa satellite destroyed as SpaceX rocket explodes before launch

The AMOS-6 satellite being launched by Facebook and Eutelsat to bring satellite connectivity to rural Sub-Saharan Africa has been destroyed after the SpaceX rocket carrying it exploded.

SpaceX have stated that an “anomaly” occurred while the rocket was being fuelled at the launch site in Cape Canaveral, causing the explosion. No one was injured. The rocket was being test-fired prior to its actual launch.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is currently visiting Nigeria, wrote that he was "deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX's launch failure destroyed our satellite”, but added "we remain committed to our mission of connecting everyone, and we will keep working until everyone has the opportunities this satellite would have provided.”

The blast began at 9:07am EST on Thursday morning and lasted for four minutes. The rocket that exploded was a Falcon 9 – a model designed to be reusable thanks to its ability to land upright. SpaceX founder Elon Musk noted that the explosion “originated around upper stage [of the] oxygen tank… during propellant fill operation.”

Founded by Musk in 2002, SpaceX is attempting to increase the commercial viability of manned space flights, and the idea of reusing rockets is the bedrock of this idea. While the company has not yet achieved a manned space flight, it has secured contracts with NASA to shuttle American astronauts to the ISS in the future.

While Musk was stoical about the accident, the Israel Space Agency was less reserved about losing the $200m satellite, owned by Israeli firm Spacecom. “As far as the Israeli communications satellite industry is concerned, this is a very severe blow which could place the future of the industry in doubt if it is not dragged out of the mud,” said ISA chairman Isaac Ben-Israel.

While undoubtedly a blow for SpaceX, and indeed Facebook and Eutelsat, the accident is unlikely to quell any of the companies’ ambitions. Musk is due to reveal his proposals for a Mars colony later this month, while Zuckerberg reiterated during his African tour that Facebook intends to push ahead with its controversial Free Basics initiative in Africa.

Part of the Internet.org movement, Free Basics offers selected internet content to users for free. The service caused a stir in India when it was suggested that it essentially amount to zero-rating, which was outlawed by Indian regulator TRAI earlier this year.

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