Aquila, Solar Powered Internet Service Providing Aircraft


Dear Friends, Visitors/Viewers/Readers,

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Wow, truly, we are at the final frontier! Facebook has just announced the first successful test flight of a high-altitude solar plane to bring internet access to remote parts of the world (where 1.6 billion people reside) currently without mobile broadband network. Back in March of 2015, Mark Zuckerberg revealed that Facebook had been testing drones in the skies over UK. The Aquila drone has the wingspan of an airliner, weighs about a third as much as a car, and consumes only 5,000 watts (equivalent to 3 hairdryers or a powerful microwave ) when cruising. It was developed in Bridgwater, Somerset, by Ascenta, a designer of solar powered drones that Facebook bought in March of 2014. Facebook plans on having Aquila as a fleet of solar powered aircraft that will provide internet to people in sub-Saharan Africa and other remote regions currently without online access. Once they are fully operational, these high altitude planes will stay airborne for up to 90 days at a time and beam broadband coverage to a 60-mile wide area on the ground, availing internet to people in under-connected regions.

After months of flying scale models, the Facebook Connectivity Lab finally completed first full-scale test flight and provided much data on Aquila’s performance on autopilot, batteries, motors, radio, displays, ground station, aerodynamic handling, structural viability, and crew training. The low altitude test flight lasted for 96 minutes (more than three times the originally planned mission length).

Some of the future challenges will need to be faced are:

  1. During the winter, solar panels need to collect sufficient energy during short days to keep the batteries charged over long nights (up to 14 hours at a time).
  2. Higher energy efficiency and lower mass battery systems continue to be needed
  3. Aquila continues to be optimized
  4. Overall need to reduce the cost in order to insure that the project would be viable.

Jay Parikh, Facebook’s head of engineering and infrastructure, said in a blog: “We’re encouraged by this first successful flight, but we have a lot of work ahead of us … In our next tests, we will fly Aquila faster, higher and longer, eventually taking it above 60,000 feet.”


~have a bright and sunny day~

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Gathered, written, and posted by sunisthefuture-Susan Sun Nunamaker
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