Facebook improving connectivity thousands of miles up

Facebook continues its mission to connect more people in the world with another successful test flight for Aquila, an aircraft designed by a UK aerospace team to get more people on the internet and using the social media platform. 

Aquila, which was officially announced by Facebook two years ago, will create a 50km communications radius for up to 90 days in remote or low-income areas. The aircraft is solar-powered, designed to stay in the air for months and will project signals that can be converted into Wi-Fi or LTE connections with small dishes or towers. It is meant to solve the costliness of installing the standard infrastructure that supports mobile networks, especially in areas where companies wouldn’t be compensated for their efforts. 

Aquila’s basic structure is a challenge, since it defies common dimensions with the wingspan of a Boeing 737 and weighs a third as much of an electric car. This means it holds a steady pace of about 10-15mph, but it’s meant to stay in the air for longer than average so it can create Wi-Fi and LTE connections, wrote Facebook’s Martin Luis Gomez

It is meant to fly at 60,000 to 90,000 feet — above all commercial aircraft — but hasn’t gone higher than 3,000 feet during its two test flights.   

The aircraft’s first test ran last July for 96 minutes, and the company had a few things to improve on, such as battery life and cost-efficiency. Something like Aquila has never really been developed before so just cranking out the logistics of its existence is an ongoing project.

The second test flight happened in May and was announced in Gomez’s post yesterday. Its mission was to collect data about the aircraft’s drag by tracking its speed, heading and altitude with hundreds of newly installed sensors, according to the post.   

The second test flight also outlasted the first by ten minutes, and had a happier ending, since the first test resulted in a structural failure upon landing. This time around, Aquila landed “perfectly,” Gomez wrote.  

Ideally, Facebook’s creation will help them reach the 1.6 billion people who have no internet connection, which sticks to the same story Facebook told when it hit two billion users this week: the social media network isn’t out for money, just all the warm fuzzies that come from befriending people digitally.

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