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Africa – Facebook Setback

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Plans for the rollout of satellite internet for remote parts of the continent are halted by explosion during test run.

During a test run, the SpaceX rocket carrying an Israeli-built Facebook communications satellite exploded on a launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on September 1st. The company attributed the accident to an anomaly and declared that there had been no injuries.

The satellite, which was scheduled for deployment in partnership with French firm Eutelsat Communications to provide broadband coverage for much of sub-Saharan Africa. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who was visiting Africa at the time, commented that he was “deeply disappointed…we will keep working until everyone has the opportunities this satellite would have provided,” reported BBC News

The Amos-6 satellite had a worth of around US$200m; “As far as the Israeli communications satellite industry is concerned, this is a very severe blow which could place the future of the industry in doubt if it is not dragged out of the mud,” said the chairman of the Israel Space Agency, Isaac Ben-Israel.

Particularly concerning are the reported causes of the accident, which involved the loading of fuel onto the rocket. SpaceX has been seeking to create reusable rockets for both state and private space travel.

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SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket after successful landing – CC

The satellite was a major part of Facebook’s plans in Africa. Before the accident Zuckerberg visited Kenya and Nigeria to discuss emerging technological developments. However he added that “fortunately, we have developed other technologies like Aquila that will connect people as well,” reported Deutschewelle.

Aquila is a project to develop solar powered drones to fly without landing for three months, beaming internet access to remote parts of the continent, using a linked network of drones. The drones will operate above the altitude of commercial aircraft and will climb during the day and drop at night, when the solar panels will not receive charge. The first test flight took place in July this year, reported UK-based the Telegraph.

According to Facebook, as many as 4bn people do not have access to the internet and 1.6bn live in remote locations, where implementing existing network technologies is challenging and costly, reported EA Business Week.

According to Internet World Stats, Nigeria tops the leagues table of Facebook users in sub-Saharan Africa at 15m, followed by South Africa with 13m and Kenya with 5m. Facebook has also recently announced the rollout of new African languages including Hausa, reported Deutschewelle.

The company has also proved controversial on the continent, with many governments such as Ethiopia and Mali, banning the service, accusing it of being central in the organisation of protests and political dissent. During election time, governments in DR Congo, Uganda and Chad, have also cracked down on the use of the social media service, reported Venture Africa.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

Africa – Facebook to provide free satellite Internet
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.9, Pp. 21004B

TELECOMMUNICATIONS: Africa
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.53, Issue.3, Pp. 21182A-21183C

Facebook Office in Africa
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 52, Issue. 6, Pp. 20895C

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today.

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