Although the world is increasingly connected through the internet, there are still four billion people or 60% of the world’s population who do not have such access. 1.6 billion of those people live in remote locations and do not have access to mobile broadband networks. Facebook Connectivity Lab just announced the first full-scale test flight of Aquila, a solar-powered airplane that can be used to bring affordable internet to isolated areas.
Aquila is a high-altitude, long-endurance, unmanned solar-powered airplane. It has a wingspan bigger than a Boeing 737 airplane but weighs hundreds of times less due to its carbon fiber frame. Many of the team members who contributed to the craft had previous experience at at NASA, Boeing, DARPA, Northrop Grumman, and the British Royal Air Force.
Aquila flies on solar power during the day and battery power at night. Roughly half of its mass is dedicated to backup batteries. At 60,000 feet, Aquila will loiter using approximately 5,000 watts of power which is the equivalent of three hair dryers. The batteries must be able to supply enough power to last thirteen to fourteen hours.
Once deployed, the craft will fly between 60,000 to 90,000 feet in the air. It will beam an internet signal to people within a 60-mile communications diameter for up to 90 days at a time. It will use free space laser communications as a mechanism for communicating between aircraft in the fleet, and e-band technology to beam connectivity from the airplane to receivers on the ground.
Until recently Connectivity Lab had only tested crafts that were 1/5th the size of the Aquila. The test flight of the real deal in Yuma, Arizona was so successful that the team extended the test time from thirty to ninety-six minutes.
Connectivity Labs plans to bring out a fleet of Aquila crafts in the future. Soon, the whole world will be able to enjoy cat memes.