Elon Musk isn’t the only tech titan mourning the fiery destruction on Thursday of one of his SpaceX rockets.
The rocket was two days away from launching a satellite into space that Facebook planned to use to beam internet down to sub-Saharan Africa, part of the Silicon Valley giant’s goal of connecting the world online. There were no reported casualties in the explosion.
“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,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post Thursday.
Facebook had planned to lease bandwidth on the Amos 6 satellite from SpaceCom, the Israeli firm that operates it. It would have been the first step in what may be Facebook’s most ambitious project yet ― providing fast access to the internet, or at least to Facebook, everywhere in the world.
Thursday’s conflagration is certainly a setback for Facebook ― but perhaps not a major one. In June, the company completed the first successful flight of its solar-powered Aquila drone. The four-propeller aircraft, which has a wider wingspan than a Boeing 737, flies slowly at an altitude of up to 90,000 feet, relaying a Wi-Fi signal back to the ground in a 60-mile radius.
“Fortunately, we have developed other technologies like Aquila that will connect people as well,” Zuckerberg said on Thursday. “We remain committed to our mission of connecting everyone, and we will keep working until everyone has the opportunities this satellite would have provided.”
The cause of the SpaceX explosion is still unknown, but it appears to have begun at an upper oxygen tank while the Falcon 9 rocket was being fueled, Musk, SpaceX’s founder and chief executive, said in a tweet.
It’s not the first time the private space firm has lost a rocket this way. In June 2015, a SpaceX rocket exploded when a strut ― a steel rod that’s about two feet long and one inch thick ― snapped, releasing helium into the rocket’s upper stage liquid oxygen tank. The company has crashed a handful of other rockets over the past year as it attempted to land one upright on a platform after bringing it back to Earth. Musk founded SpaceX 14 years ago to make space travel cheaper by building rockets that can be reused. In April, the company finally nailed the landing.
It’s unclear whether Facebook would work with SpaceX to launch other satellites in the future. But for what it’s worth, Silicon Valley can be surprisingly forgiving of its own: