Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg had his jaunt to Africa interrupted by some pretty unfortunate news Thursday: A SpaceX rocket exploded on a Florida launchpad, destroying a satellite Facebook was planning to use to offer Internet access in parts of the continent he’s currently visiting.
“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 wrote on Facebook hours after the incident.
“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,” he added, referencing Facebook’s massive Internet-beaming drone.
Zuckerberg’s statement reads like a jab at fellow technology billionaire Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX as well as electric automaker Tesla. For his part, Musk tweeted Thursday that the problem had something to do with the rocket’s upper stage oxygen tank, though an exact cause has yet to be determined. The SpaceX rocket, a Falcon 9, was undergoing a test at the time of the explosion; it was not set to launch until Sept. 3 at the earliest. The incident did not result in any fatalities.
“At approximately 9:07 am ET, during a standard pre-launch static fire test for the AMOS-6 mission, there was an anomaly at SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 resulting in loss of the vehicle,” said Phil Larson, a spokesperson for SpaceX, in a statement Thursday afternoon. “The anomaly originated around the upper stage oxygen tank and occurred during propellant loading of the vehicle. Per standard operating procedure, all personnel were clear of the pad and there were no injuries. We are continuing to review the data to identify the root cause.”
Thursday’s incident marks a blemish on SpaceX’s record, which had been clean since another Falcon 9 was lost during a launch in June of last year. That explosion claimed another high-tech victim: Microsoft HoloLens headsets destined for the International Space Station.
Together with a French satellite operator, Facebook spent about $95 million to rent capacity on the satellite over the next five years. The satellite, Amos-6, was built by Israeli satellite firm Spacecom.