Ascenta is a solar drone company based in Somerset, England that Facebook purchased in 2014. Their company built the first test vehicle for Facebook’s ambitious project focusing on providing Internet access to people around the world that aren’t near cellular towers or land lines. The drone features a 100 foot wing and weighs about a 1,000 pounds. It is code named Aguila, which is latin for eagle. This plane is unmanned and designed to fly in circles about 11 miles above the Earth. The goal is to connect the people within a 50 mile radius of the plane to the Internet.
This is a project within Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, which is run by Yael Maguire. The use of drones to provide Internet is a new concept and one that might turn more than a few heads. It is believed that more than 10% of the world’s population would benefit from this project. Once in the air, the drone will stay there for three months and then float down to the Earth. Facebook is planning to launch these vehicles using helium balloons. This could change though as the project continue to progress.
At 11 miles above the Earth, Facebook won’t have to worry about commercial air planes or weather interfering with their Internet connection. The Internet connection itself relies on lasers that connect the plane to a land-based fiber line. Facebook’s vice president of engineering Jay Parikh explained to USA Today that their biggest advance so far was increasing data capacity of the ground-based laser, which now can transmit data to the plane 1,000 times faster than it did before.
Despite their initatives in the ISP industry, Facebook doesn’t plan to become one, according to Parikh. They plan to perfect the single plane they have built for now. It sounds like Facebook plans to connect as many people as possible to an Internet service provider. This would compete with telecommunication and cable companies that build telephone and cable networks. Internet service providers would gain millions of new users through Facebook’s drone-based connection.