During fueling of SpaceX‘s unmanned rocket this morning, several explosions went off, sending plumes of smoke spiraling into sky, according to the Associated Press, and setting back Facebook‘s mission to deliver satellite-based internet to sub-Saharan Africa.
— Alex Fitzpatrick (@AlexJamesFitz) September 1, 2016
The test firings were being conducted ahead of a launch scheduled for Saturday at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. There are no details on what caused the rocket to erupt, but the Brevard County Emergency Management Office says the blast isn’t a threat to the general public.
There is NO threat to general public from catastrophic abort during static test fire at SpaceX launch pad at CCAFS this morning.
— Brevard EOC (@BrevardEOC) September 1, 2016
The explosion is also a blow to Facebook, who had contracted with SpaceX and the satellite firm Eutelsat to deliver its first Internet.org satellite into orbit. The new satellite, AMOS-6, was set to be part of Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to deliver wireless connectivity to large portions of sub-Saharan Africa, and eventually other parts of the world. The deal had been estimated at $95 million, with Facebook getting a split share of the satellite’s bandwidth for up to five years. Now, the partnership may dissolve: Facebook and Eutelsat permitted each other to terminate the deal if the satellite and its gateway Earth stations aren’t operational by January 1st. Both companies have multiple insurance policies to cover project-related risks.
Writing from Africa on his Facebook page, Zuckerberg said he was “deeply disappointed” to hear about the explosion, and insisted the company had other plans afoot for internet connectivity, including its drone- and laser-based Project Aquila.
Post updated 1:20 PM EST