A Falcon 9 rocket operated by SpaceX exploded on the launch pad Thursday morning during a pre-launch test fire. Thankfully no one was injured, but an opportunity to bring internet to access to Africa went up in smoke as a result.
The rocket contained a satellite built by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), a state-owned aerospace company, and operated by Spacecom, an Israeli company specializing in communications satellites. The project was co-funded by Facebook, and was part of an ongoing project meant to extend broadband access to parts of sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. The satellite, called AMOS-6, was the latest in a cadre of satellites from IAI providing access to internet, television and radio communications in the region. The $200 million spacecraft would have replaced the aging AMOS-2 satellite, launched in 2003.
Internet From On High
Together the AMOS satellites constitute a network of communications satellites serving the Middle East, Europe and Africa. AMOS-6 would have been the first satellite used by Facebook as part of the company’s Internet.org initiative, which seeks to bring internet access to the developing world. The company also plans to use high-flying drones to beam internet to remote regions.
Said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in a statement:
Facebook partnered with Eutelsat, a European satellite company, to operate the craft, and signed a contract worth $95 million over the course of five years, with an optional two-year extension. That would have given them access to 18 of the craft’s 36 Ka-band beams to provide broadband spot coverage of selected areas in Africa and the Middle East. The craft would have entered a geosynchronous orbit along Africa’s west coast.
Disrupts Launch Schedule
With Thursday’s rocket failure, however, the company must put its plans on hold. The explosion came as the rocket was undergoing a static test fire, standard procedure for that kind of rocket. The test involves a brief activation of the rocket’s main stage boosters to assess preparedness for flight.
Said the company in a statement:
“SpaceX can confirm that in preparation for today’s static fire, there was an anomaly on the pad resulting in the loss of the vehicle and its payload. Per standard procedure, the pad was clear and there were no injuries.”
This was the ninth SpaceX launch of 2016, and was one in a string of launches planned for the fall, including an expected test of the company’s new Falcon Heavy rocket, expected to launch late this year. It is not known at this time how the malfunction will affect their launch schedule. The last time a SpaceX rocket malfunctioned during launch was in June of 2015, when an unmanned Falcon-9 rocket bound for the International Space Station exploded shortly after taking off.