Facebook has reached a significant milestone in its bid to provide internet to even the most remote locations of the globe.
Its Connectivity Lab has completed the first full-scale test flight of the firm’s Aquila high-altitude aircraft. Aquila is a solar-poweredplane designed to ‘beam’ connectivity to places that can’t support the typical infrastructure needed to provide web connections.
When complete, Aquila will be able to circle a region up to 60 miles in diameter, beaming connectivity from an altitude of more than 60,00ft using laser communications and millimetre wave systems. Aquila is designed to be hyper efficient, so it can fly for up to three months at a time.
The aircraft has the wingspan of an airliner, but at cruising speed it will consume only 5,000 watts — the same amount as three hairdryers, or a high-end microwave.
“Internet access can offer life-changing opportunities and experiences to all of us, but there are still 4 billion people without it,” said Jay Parikh, Facebook’s global head of engineering and infrastructure in a blog post.
“We’ve been flying a one-fifth scale version of Aquila for several months, but this was the first time we’ve flown the full-scale aircraft. This test flight was designed to verify our operational models and overall aircraft design. To prove out the full capacity of the design, we will push Aquila to the limits in a lengthy series of tests in the coming months and years. Failures are expected and sometimes even planned; we learn more when we push the plane to the brink.”