SpaceX Explosion Destroys Satellite, Sets Back Facebook's Internet Push in Africa

The explosion destroyed a satellite that Facebook intended to use.

ByABC News
September 1, 2016, 6:12 PM

— -- An explosion occurred during a SpaceX fueling operation at its launch site in Florida around 9:07 a.m. Eastern today, destroying a satellite that Facebook intended to use to provide internet connectivity to rural Africa, SpaceX officials and local authorities said.

SpaceX was conducting a fueling test on Launch Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral when the incident took place, an engineer at the Kennedy Space Center told ABC News.

The explosion happened "in preparation for today's static fire," and resulted in "the loss of the vehicle and its payload," SpaceX said in a statement.

The explosion was felt around the facility, and a mushroom cloud could be seen over the launch site, the engineer told ABC News.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the loss of the Falcon rocket today, "Originated around upper stage oxygen tank. Cause still unknown. More soon."

Danielle K posted this photo on Twitter with this caption: "#SpaceX #falcon9," Sept. 1, 2016.
Danielle K/Twitter

Video from the scene showed smoldering infrastructure.

No Reported Injuries

There were no injuries as a result of the explosion, the Brevard County Emergency Management Office told ABC News. The office tweeted, "There is NO threat to general public from catastrophic abort during static test fire at SpaceX launch pad at [Cape Canaveral] this morning."

Brian Purtell, a spokesman for the Air Force's 45th Space Wing, which controls Cape Canaveral's space operations, said that personnel were being evacuated from the facility.

"Once we determine everybody is out of there, then we can go in when it's safe to kind of determine what happened," he said, noting that SpaceX had a scheduled launch for early Saturday morning.

NASA released a statement Thursday evening expressing confidence in the private space company with which it contracts, saying, "we remain confident in our commercial partners," but warning that "it's too early to know whether the incident will affect the schedule for upcoming NASA-related SpaceX launches to the International Space Station."

Destroyed Payload

The rocket that was destroyed was carrying the AMOS-6 communications satellite, a spokesman for SpaceX told ABC News, adding that the mission was commercial and not for NASA.

SpaceX announced in January 2013 a deal with Space Communications Ltd. (Spacecom) to launch AMOS-6 into geosynchronous orbit sometime in 2015, which would "provide communication services, including direct satellite home internet for Africa, the Middle East and Europe," and was built by Israel Aerospace Industries.

As part of its activities in space, the AMOS-6 was going to "provide internet coverage to large parts of sub-Saharan Africa" as part of Facebook's initiatives to increase internet connectivity around the world, according to a posting on the social network by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg, who coincidentally is travelling in Kenya today, posted on Facebook: "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."

"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 said.

In an email, a spokesman for Spacecom acknowledged the SpaceX statement, but did not add further details.

Israel Aerospace Industries said that it was, "disappointed about this incident," and was ready to provide assistance. The manufacturer said that the satellite was "the largest and most advanced communications satellite ever built in Israel."

ABC News’ Gina Sunseri, Fergal Gallagher, Dan Linden, Jason Volack, Jon Williams and Joyce Alcantara contributed to this report.

Subscribe to real-time updates as this story unfolds. To start, click the bell on the top left corner in the ABC News’ phone app. Download ABC News for iPhone here or ABC News for Android here.

Related Topics