Update on the Satellite Mark Zuckerberg promised Africa

Facebook might be launching its satellite Athena in 2019

A couple of months ago, we wrote to confirm if Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook had given up on his word regarding Facebook’s internet delivery project from Space to Africa. We are glad to inform you that Facebook has confirmed that PointView Tech LLC (a company registered by Facebook), is building the satellite that would provide quality Internet services in Africa and other unconnected regions of the world. The satellite named Athena will be placed in a Sun-synchronous low-Earth orbit and will be Facebook’s first competing project in the space-based internet connectivity industry.

While speaking to Wired, a spokesperson for Facebook confirmed the existence of its satellite project saying, “While we have nothing to share about specific projects at this time, we believe satellite technology will be an important enabler of the next generation of broadband infrastructure, making it possible to bring broadband connectivity to rural regions where Internet connectivity is lacking or non-existent.”

The Genesis

October 5th, 2015, Mark Zuckerberg took to Facebook to announce his first project on internet delivery from space to Africa – the famous AMOS-6. It came in partnership with Eutelsat to connect millions of disadvantaged internet enthusiast across Africa. This was a response to beam internet access down into communities from the sky, to connect people living in remote regions and AMOS-6 was a deliberate, intelligent and first technology to give relief to the underserved in Africa. AMOS-6 was to be launched in 2016 into a geostationary orbit that will cover large parts of the West, East and Southern Africa. However, it’s been nearly three years since the official announcement and pre-launch update but nothing has been heard of it, and you might be wondering why.

AMOS-6 was to be launched in 2016 but this plan failed. 1st September 2016, two days to AMOS-6 official launch, Elon Musk’s SpaceX (Falcon 9) rocket due to launch with Facebook’s first satellite, exploded, during a static fire test at Cape Canaveral, destroying the cargo. Unfortunately, $200million AMOS-6 satellite rocket (SpaceX reusable rocket) got destroyed too, hence, stalling 3rd September 2016 launch date. The explosion does prove to be a setback for Facebook.

As reported by SpaceWatch,

“Facebook’s aim is to “examine the suitability of LEO satellites using millimeter wave frequencies… to provide broadband Internet access to unserved and underserved areas across the globe,” PointView’s FCC filing document says. The Athena satellite tests are to “run for approximately two years after the start of in-orbit operations.” If these tests are successful, analysts believe that Facebook may build its own LEO satellite broadband constellation, implying that executives are hoping that companies such as OneWeb will not benefit from first-mover advantage when they deploy their constellations.

While OneWeb and SpaceX have received the vitally important approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to go ahead with their megaconstellation plans, PointView have only asked the FCC for “experimental authorization to launch and operate a single low-earth orbit… satellite,” that is expected to be launched in early 2019. According to PointView, Athena would be placed in a “sun-synchronous orbit between 500-550km,” and would communicate with two ground stations in Los Angeles and Ventura County, both in California.”


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