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Facebook's Internet.org plan hits a bump in the road with SpaceX rocket explosion

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has lunch with Joseph Mucheru, the Kenyan Cabinet secretary of information and communications.
Source: Facebook
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has lunch with Joseph Mucheru, the Kenyan Cabinet secretary of information and communications.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's mission to connect the world just got harder.

Elon Musk's SpaceX rocket was supposed to deliver Facebook's first satellite into orbit — a satellite leased in partnership with French Eutelsat from Israeli-based Spacecom for $95 million for five years. But that plan ended when the rocket blew up on the launch pad early Thursday morning at Cape Canaveral, Florida. (No one was hurt.)

The Amos-6 communication satellite was designed to provide Wi-Fi connectivity to sub-Saharan Africa, opening up a whole new swathe of the world to Facebook and other internet companies. Facebook's users in the region number around 84 million.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg meets with entrepreneurs in Nairobi, Kenya.
Source: Facebook
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg meets with entrepreneurs in Nairobi, Kenya.

The incident delivered a major setback to both Musk and Zuckerberg, as Internet.org is one of Facebook's most ambitious projects.

"We are disappointed by the loss but remain committed to our mission of connecting people to the Internet around the world," a Facebook spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

The good news is that Spacecom reportedly purchased insurance on behalf of Eutelsat and Facebook covering project-related risks including the satellite's launch and first year of orbit.

Facebook will now have to wait or try other methods to access new users in West, East and Southern Africa who live beyond the range of fixed and mobile terrestrial networks.

"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," said Zuckerberg in a statement. "Fortunately, we have developed other technologies like Aquila that will connect people as well," he said.

Zuckerberg is in Nairobi, Kenya, where just four hours ago he posted a status update.

"I had lunch in Nairobi with Joseph Mucheru, the Kenyan Cabinet Secretary of Information and Communications," Zuckerberg wrote in the post. "We talked about internet access and his ambitious plans for connecting everyone in Kenya."

Zuckerberg is in Kenya's capital to meet with entrepreneurs and developers — the country is a world leader in mobile payments — and to try some new food.

"We ate at MAMA Oliech Restaurant. -- a local place everyone recommended. One of my favorite parts of traveling to a new country is trying the food. I enjoyed ugali and a whole fried tilapia for the first time and loved them both!" Zuckerberg wrote in his post.