In 2014, Facebook began working on a high altitude platform station (HAPS) system called Aquila. This solar-powered drone was designed to act a relay station for high-speed Internet access beamed from the sky. The goal was to provide rural communities with Internet access beyond what’s available locally, but plans have changed and Facebook is back with a big announcement: it has shuttered the drone aspect of the project.
According to Facebook, its Aquila work has been a process of trial and error, one that launched with little competition and required starting from scratch. Facebook’s team had to design every aspect of the drone, as well as test it themselves. The team did so successfully on multiple occasions, demonstrating that their work — and resulting products — weren’t a waste of time.
The company points out that the aircraft is only one aspect of the project, however; the team also had to develop millimeter-wave technology for communication, something they set records for. A few years later, and Facebook is no longer only one of a handful of companies working on such technology…those companies including major aerospace firms.
For that reason, Facebook has decided to stop its own work on the Aquila drone and instead work with Airbus and other partners on the connectivity aspect of the systems, as well as other technologies outside of the aircraft itself.
Facebook says it plans to “actively” participate in various aviation advisory boards, as well as rule-making committees, both internationally and within the United States. As well, the company says it is developing a proposal for the 2019 World Radio Conference on getting more spectrum for these high altitude platform stations.