Facebook’s efforts to provide internet access in Africa suffered a significant setback Thursday when a SpaceX rocket carrying the company’s first internet satellite blew up during launch preparations. The satellite, which early reports valued anywhere from $95 million to $200 million, was part of Facebook’s Internet.org initiative for global internet access.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who had traveled to Africa to celebrate the launch on location, candidly expressed his frustration about the accident on his Facebook profile. “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,” he wrote.
Zuckerberg went on to point out that the company has alternative technologies in place to offer internet access that don’t rely on spaceflight. “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 wrote.
Facebook’s satellite was aboard an unmanned Dragon rocket that was scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida Thursday. The rocket was part of a fleet of spacecraft operated by SpaceX, the private space aviation company owned by internet billionaire and Tesla founder Elon Musk. The spaceship was undergoing pre-launch testing when it blew up, according to a SpaceX statement, which said that no one was hurt during the accident.
Facebook launched Internet.org in 2013 as a way to bring internet services to India, Africa and other parts of the world with low levels of connectivity. The company faced significant backlash for its plans to launch free basic internet access in India that would restrict users to a small number of online services, including Facebook’s own apps and services.
But while Facebook has been cooperating with mobile operators in India, it has also worked on providing free internet access with advanced technologies, including drones and satellites. Zuckerberg officially announced the company’s first satellite last October, at the time saying that it would “connect millions of people” across West, East and Southern Africa. There was no word Thursday on whether the company would build a new satellite to replace the now-destroyed model.
Watch footage from the explosion below.