Facebook's plans to provide Internet connectivity in Africa were dealt a major blow on Thursday when a rocket carrying an important communications satellite exploded just before launch at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
The rocket, operated by SpaceX, was carrying the Amos-6 satellite built by Israel Aerospace Industries. Facebook and satellite partner Eutelsat Communications S.A. had intended to use the technology to support low-cost broadband services in sub-Saharan 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," wrote Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder and CEO, on his Facebook page.
Under its Internet.org initiative, Facebook is trying to bring Internet connectivity to remote and disadvantaged communities using a range of unconventional technologies.
Zuckerberg has naturally presented Internet.org as a philanthropic endeavor, but critics see it as evidence of Facebook's ambition to be a globally dominant technology force.
While the destruction of Amos-6 is a setback for the social networking giant, Facebook has other options for delivering broadband in Africa, as Zuckerberg was quick to point out in his Facebook update.
"Fortunately, we have developed other technologies like Aquila that will connect people as well," he said. "We remain committed to our mission of connecting everyone, and we will keep working until everyone has the opportunities this satellite would have provided."
Aquila is a solar-powered drone that Facebook has been testing in Arizona this year. In July, Jay Parikh, Facebook's vice president of engineering, was reported to have said there was still a lot of work to be done on the project. But the destruction of Amos-6 could see more resources channeled into Aquila and related ventures. (See Facebook Gets Its Drone On and Facebook Debuts Terragraph & ARIES to Extend Wireless.)
Based near Los Angeles, SpaceX is run by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, who is perhaps better known as the founder of electric car company Tesla.
The private sector company, which has received funding from the US government, has ambitious plans for a manned space mission to Mars, but its various projects will be in doubt after Thursday's disaster.
According to the BBC, Israeli officials have described the loss of Amos-6, which was valued at more than $200 million, as a huge setback for the industry.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading