|National origin||United Kingdom|
|First flight||28 June 2016|
|Retired||26 June 2018|
The Facebook Aquila is an experimental solar-powered drone developed by Facebook for use as an atmospheric satellite, intended to act as relay stations for providing internet access to remote areas. It first flew on 28 June 2016 and its development was stopped in June 2018.
Aquila was developed by Facebook's Connectivity Lab and the prototype was constructed by Ascenta, a Somerset, England-based company acquired by Facebook in 2014. Scale models of the Aquila were built and flown to prove the concept prior to the prototype being built.
Following construction at Ascenta's factory in Bridgwater, England, the Aquila prototype was disassembled and shipped to Arizona, where it was first flown on 28 June 2016. The 96-minute flight was considered successful, however in landing the aircraft touched down short of the runway and was damaged; the National Transportation Safety Board conducted an investigation into the accident, as the drone suffered a structural failure just before touching down.
Following the crash, the prototype Aquila was modified with spoilers, provision for feathering the propellers, and refinement of the exterior surface of the aircraft; the second flight took place on 22 May 2017, with the one-hour, 46-minute flight being considered successful. In November 2017, a partnership with Airbus was announced to further development of the Aquila and the "high altitude platform station broadband connectivity system" (HAPS) project. The same month, it was announced that Aquila would be displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum's spring "The Future Starts here" exhibition in 2018.
In June 2018, as aerospace manufacturers start designing and building HAPS, Facebook decided to stop its program to work with partners like Airbus on HAPS connectivity and their technologies like flight control and high-density batteries.
The drone has a wingspan roughly the same as a Boeing 737, but weighs only 880 pounds (400 kg). Aquila is of flying wing configuration, the upper surface of the wing being covered in solar cells to power the aircraft's four electric motors; batteries, composing half the aircraft's weight, provide power storage for night flight. Aquila is claimed to use the same amount of power as three blow dryers. While the prototype used a launch trolley to become airborne, production Aquilas are intended to be launched using helium balloons, carrying the aircraft to their operational height and releasing them; landings would take place on grassy surfaces.
Aquila is intended to fly at altitudes of up to 90,000 feet (27,000 m) during the day, dropping to 60,000 feet (18,000 m) at night, with an endurance of up to three months, providing Internet service to a 50 miles (80 km)-radius area below its flight path; if communications spectrum was assigned for the project, it would allow the 66% of Earth's surface that has poor or no internet access to be connected.
Data from Collated from sources in the text above.
- Crew: None
- Wingspan: 140 ft (43 m)
- Gross weight: 880 lb (399 kg)
- Service ceiling: 90,000 ft (27,000 m)
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- Cellan-Jones, Rory (21 July 2016). "Facebook's drones – made in Britain". BBC. London. Retrieved 2017-12-05.
- Yael Maguire (26 June 2018). "High altitude connectivity: The next chapter". Facebook.
- Kelly, Heather (31 July 2015). "Facebook built a giant Internet drone". CNN. Atlanta, GA. Retrieved 2017-12-05.
- Hern, Alex (22 November 2016). "Facebook's solar-powered drone under investigation after 'accident'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2017-12-05.
- Levin, Alan; Sarah Frier (21 November 2016). "Accident Involving Facebook Experimental Drone Under Investigation". Bloomberg. New York. Retrieved 2017-12-05.
- Heath, Alex (29 Jun 2017). "Facebook's internet-beaming drone has completed its second test flight and didn't crash". Business Insider. New York. Retrieved 2017-12-05.
- Bellamy III, Woodrow (21 November 2017). "Airbus, Facebook Partner on HAPS Connectivity". Aviation Today. Rockville, MD. Retrieved 2017-12-05.
- Curtis, Sophie (23 November 2017). "Facebook's Aquila internet drone to go on public display for the first time at V&A Museum in London". Daily Mirror. London. Retrieved 2017-12-05.
- "The technology behind Aquila", Facebook.com