Yesterday’s unmanned SpaceX rocket explosion destroyed its payload, a communications satellite designed to deliver basic wireless connectivity to remote villages in sub-Saharan Africa. The accident has impacted both SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s plans in space.
The launch of Spacecom’s AMOS-6 satellite would have been the first step in the Facebook-led Internet.org’s mission to deliver low-cost Internet connectivity to remote and underserved regions around the world via satellite.
So, what does this mean for Facebook’s plans to connect Africa?
Today, 75% of the population in Africa do not have regular, reliable access the Internet, which is seen as a key enabler of sustainable socio-economic development.
“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,” Mark Zuckerberg, who is currently in Africa visiting startups in the region, said in a Facebook post.
The explosion has now delayed plans to launch operations past the original deadline of 1 January 2017, and according to some experts, may dissolve Facebook’s Ka-band lease with Eutelsat.
However, the company is already testing other ways to bring connectivity to the world: its Free Basics service is available in nearly 50 countries worldwide, and Facebook is currently testing Project Aquila, the use of unmanned solar-powered drones that can transmit the Internet to remote locations.
In addition, Facebook has recently introduced the OpenCellular project, which it hopes will help deliver wireless Internet access to the 10 per cent of the world’s population that lives in the most remote places.
“We remain committed to our mission of connecting everyone, and we will keep working until everyone has the opportunities this satellite would have provided,” Zuckerberg said.
The planned launch would have been the ninth by SpaceX this year, with a further eight planned through to the end 2016.
Analysts note that the explosion could be a setback for the company, which had just signed Luxembourg satellite operator SES as the first customer to launch a satellite with a reused booster.
However, satellite launches have an industry success rate of 95% on average – SpaceX falls just behind at 93%. “Considering they do have a decent success rate, I don’t see much harm being done to the industry as a whole,” Bill Ostrove, aerospace and defense analyst at market research firm Forecast International, said to The LA Times.
ITU News/ Lucy Spencer (@)