Israeli satellite destroyed in launchpad explosion of SpaceX rocket
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Israeli satellite destroyed in launchpad explosion of SpaceX rocket

(JTA) — A rocket that was scheduled to launch an Israeli communications satellite into space exploded on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The unmanned SpaceX rocket reportedly was in the midst of  routine fueling test for Saturday’s scheduled launch when it exploded on Thursday morning. The explosion was felt throughout the NASA facility and for several miles around, The Associated Press reported. Dark smoke could be seen hanging in the sky over the blast site.

SpaceX is a private aerospace company found by Jewish entrepreneur, engineer and inventor Elon Musk.

The rocket was scheduled to hoist into orbit the Amos 6 satellite, built by Israel Aerospace Industries and owned by Spacecom Ltd. in partnership with Eutelsat Communications of France. It was expected to operate for 16 years in part on behalf of Facebook and bring Internet connectivity to sub-Saharan Africa and television service to providers in Europe and the Middle East. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the project in June 2015.

The loss of the satellite could also harm Israel’s space program and some of its commerical projects.

The satellite costs about $300 million.  It was destroyed in the explosion, SpaceX said.

Zuckerberg was in Kenya on Thursday in meetings about the internet program when he heard about the explosion, which could delay the initiative by several years.

He said in a Facebook post: “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.

“Fortunately, we have developed other technologies like Aquila that will connect people as well. We remain committed to our mission of connecting everyone, and we will keep working until everyone has the opportunities this satellite would have provided.”