This post originally appeared on http://www.nowadaysnews.com/facebooks-giant-internet-beaming-solar-drone-takes-off/.
[Editor’s Note: Facebook hopes to eventually use the Aquila drone to provide connectivity for up to three months at a time.]
Facebook says it has successfully run the first test flight for its solar-powered, pilotless airplane that it plans to use to beam wireless internet to remote parts of the world.
The 90-minute flight lasted three times longer than planned, the company said in a post Thursday on its website, during which the aircraft, named Aquila, remained at a low altitude to enable checks of its batteries, control systems and design.
“We’re encouraged by this first successful flight,” Jay Parikh, Facebook’s global head of engineering and infrastructure, wrote. “But we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
A smaller, one-fifth scale version had been flown before, but this was the first flight for the full-size airplane, which has a wingspan bigger than the largest Boeing 737s but weighs about 100 times less.
The aircraft operates on solar power and is designed to fly for three months non-stop at altitudes between 60,000 and 90,000 feet, all the while beaming internet signals down to the Earth below using highly precise lasers.
The project is part of a broader Facebook effort that also contemplates using satellites and other high-tech gear to deliver internet service to hundreds of millions of people living in regions too remote for conventional broadband networks.
Other tech companies have launched similar initiatives. Google is experimenting with high-altitude balloons as well as drones and satellites. Microsoft has funded a project that will transmit Internet signals over unused television airwaves.
Facebook acknowledges many hurdles remain to putting its solar internet plane into the air full-time.
“To reach our goal of being able to fly over a remote region and deliver connectivity for up to three months at a time, we will need to break the world record for solar-powered unmanned flight, which currently stands at two weeks,” Parikh wrote Thursday. “This will require significant advancements in science and engineering.”
CEO Mark Zuckerberg has acknowledged Facebook’s business will benefit in the long run if more people gain Internet access, but he says the effort isn’t driven by profit-seeking. Instead, he has said it’s based on the conviction that Internet service can bring a variety of economic and social benefits to developing nations.