Facebook unveils solar-powered Internet-beaming drone

August 03, 2015 // By Rich Pell
Social networking giant Facebook (Cambridge, MA) has unveiled a full-scale version of its solar-powered drone designed to provide Internet connectivity to remote regions of the world.

Code-named Aquila, and with a wingspan of a Boeing 737, the connected drone is designed to fly for three months at a time - above weather systems and other aircraft - and create about a 30-mile (50-km) communications radius. It will use free-space laser communication technology to send and receive data to other drones and base stations at up to tens of gigabits per second.

According to the company, the drone will fly at a varying altitude of between 60,000 and 90,000 feet (18 to 27 km). During the day it will operate at its maximum height to capture as much of the sun's energy as possible, while at night, when not receiving solar energy, it will descend to its lower altitude to conserve energy.

The 880-lb. drone will be launched with the help of helium balloons, which will carry it up to its designated altitude. Once aloft, it will constantly circle in a two-mile (3 km) radius. When it needs to periodically land, it is designed to be able to do so like a glider.

This project is similar to Google's Project Loon , which is looking to create a network of high-atmosphere balloons to connect people in rural and remote areas. Both projects have undergone initial pilot testing - Project Loon in New Zealand, the U.S., and Brazil, and Aquila in Britain earlier this year. Facebook says it plans to test the drone in the U.S. later this year.

Facebook Connectivity Lab