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Facebook shuts down its internet drone project

09 July 2018

According to a recent blog post, Facebook will no longer be attempting to build a solar-power drone to deliver internet to those hard to reach places. Why?

Aquila in flight (Credit: Facebook Connectivity Labs)

Aquila was Facebook’s solar-powered airplane that would have been used to bring affordable internet to hundreds of millions of people in the hardest-to-reach places. When complete, Aquila would then circle a region up to 60 miles in diameter, beaming connectivity down from an altitude of more than 60,000ft using laser communications and millimetre wave systems. Aquila was designed to be hyper efficient, so it can fly for up to three months at a time. The aircraft had the wingspan of an airliner, but at cruising speed it consumed only 5,000W — the same amount as three hair dryers, or a high-end microwave. 

Back in June 2017, Aquila successfully completed its second full-scale test flight, flying for 1 hour and 46 minutes with a perfect landing. This second test flight took into account the lessons learnt from the drone’s initial flight last year, which resulted in the drone’s structural failure. This was soon rectified and Aquila reached over 3,000ft and moved at an average of around 10-15mph.

Yet a year later, Facebook made the following announcement: “As we’ve worked on these efforts [above], it’s been exciting to see leading companies in the aerospace industry start investing in this technology too — including the design and construction of new high-altitude aircraft. Given these developments, we’ve decided not to design or build our own aircraft any longer, and to close our facility in Bridgwater. Going forward, we’ll continue to work with partners like Airbus on HAPS connectivity generally, and on the other technologies needed to make this system work, like flight control computers and high-density batteries.”

Perhaps this project was a step too far for Facebook? 

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