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Science
23 Jul 2016

Aquila, Facebook's solar-powered drone successfully completes first test flight

Aquila- Facebook's solar powered plane project

Mark Zuckerberg announced the completion of Facebook's first successful test flight of a unmanned aerial vehicle(UAV), Aquila.

The solar-powered plane was soaring the skies for 96 minutes, even though the plan was to keep it flying for 30 minutes.

The test flight took place in Yuma, Arizona, on 28 June.

Before this, only one-fifth scale versions of the design were being tested.

In context

Aquila- Facebook's solar powered plane project
The concept behind it

Information

The concept behind it

The aircraft will use new laser-beam technology to deliver fast Internet to people in a 60-mile radius.

It will transmit a signal that can be received by the antennas on the ground which will convert the signal into Wi-Fi or 4G networks.

The larger goal is to fly these at 60,000 feet, communicate via lasers, and stay airborne for months at a time.

Details

Technical Specifications

The 140 feet wingspan allows for maximum surface area to receive sunlight and its massive lift allows Aquila to soar at 80 mph.

The drone runs on lithium ion batteries and can attain an altitude of about 2,000 feet.

It is made of carbon fiber composite and weighs less than 1,000 pounds; in order to keep it airborne for a longer time.

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The team involved

Aquila is based out of Facebook's Connectivity Lab, formed in 2014 to develop new technologies for expanding Internet access. The company had also acquired Ascenta, a UK-based consultancy with former members of the Qinetiq Zephyr project, to work on its Aquila planes.

Roadblocks faced

Initial problems

Roadblocks faced

The weight, size and performance of batteries is the primary constraint in solar powered drones. Batteries account for nearly half of Aquila's weight.

The company is trying to figure out the effect of different altitudes on Aquila's wings and propellers and the impact it will have on solar panel performance, battery size, latitude range and seasonal performance.

Only takeoff and landing are automatic.

Longest endurance record for a solar powered UAV

The Airbus Zephyr 7 holds the official endurance record for an un-refuelled, un-manned aerial vehicle with its flight from 9 July to 23 July 2010, lasting 336 hours, 22 minutes and 8 seconds and a record altitude of 21,562 metres.

Projects in the pipeline

Similar attempts to achieve global connectivity

Google has been successfully testing its balloon based solution 'Project Loon' since June 2013.

An alternate solution of creating a blanket of small yet advanced satellites is being pursued by OneWeb satellites in partnership with Airbus Defense and Space.

Microsoft's White Spaces Project will use unused frequencies allocated to broadcasting services to provide internet in particular regions of the country.

09 Nov 2016

Facebook's solar plane Aquila may soon soar in India

The remote areas in India may get internet access in the coming years through Facebook's solar-powered plane -'Aquila'.

The Indian government and Facebook are in talks regarding the same.

Facebook will provide the infrastructure for companies which do not find it affordable to provide internet infrastructure in rural areas, mainly because of the lack of demand.

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