Facebook Launches Aquila
Internet access can offer life-changing opportunities and experiences to all of us, but there are still 4 billion people without it. That’s 60% of the global population. As many as 1.6 billion of those unconnected people live in remote locations with no access to mobile broadband networks, where implementing existing network technologies is so challenging and costly that it will take years to bring everyone affordable access. As part of our commitment to Internet.org, Facebook formed the Facebook Connectivity Lab to build new technologies — including aircraft, satellites, and wireless communications systems — to help solve this problem more quickly.
Today Connectivity Lab announced a big milestone in this work: the first full-scale test flight of Aquila, our high-altitude unmanned aircraft. Aquila is a solar-powered airplane that can be used to bring affordable internet to hundreds of millions of people in the hardest-to-reach places. When complete, Aquila will be able to circle a region up to 60 miles in diameter, beaming connectivity down from an altitude of more than 60,000 feet using laser communications and millimeter 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 hair dryers, or a high-end microwave.
● Internet access can offer life-changing opportunities, information, and experiences, but there
are still 4 billion people without it.
● 1.6 billion of these people live in remote locations that are not currently served by mobile
broadband networks. The conventional approach to building networks — cell towers strung
together by fiber — is too costly to make sense in these regions.
● Facebook’s Connectivity Lab is developing new technologies, like Aquila, to address this challenge.
● Aquila is a high-altitude, long-endurance, unmanned solar-powered airplane.
● The wings are made from a cured carbon fiber that is stronger than steel for the same mass
● Aquila has a wingspan bigger than a Boeing 737 airplane but weighs hundreds of times less
(about a third of an electric car), because of its unique design and carbon-fiber frame.
● Aquila flies on solar power during the day and battery power at night. About half of Aquila’s
mass is devoted to batteries.
● At 60,000 feet, Aquila’s efficient aerodynamics allow it to loiter using approximately 5,000 W
of power, about as much as three hair dryers. The batteries must supply that load for a long
winter night: up to 13 or 14 hours.
HOW IT WILL WORK
● When deployed, Aquila will be part of a fleet of airplanes beaming internet signal to people
within a 60-mile communications diameter for up to 90 days at a time.
● It will fly at altitudes between 60,000 and 90,000 feet — above commercial air traffic and
above the weather.
● 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.
● Our team designed and lab-tested a laser that can deliver data at 10s of Gbps — approximately
10x faster than the previous state-of-the-art — to a target the size of a dime from
more than 10 miles away.
THE FIRST TEST FLIGHT
● Aquila’s first full-scale functional check flight happened on June 28, 2016, at the Yuma Proving
Ground (YPG) in Yuma, Arizona.
● At test flight cruise altitude of 2,150 feet about sea level, Aquila was consuming only 2,000
W of power.
Source: Facebook, Inc.