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First trip around the world without fuel, solar-powered plane takes off from America

Facebook said that batteries "account for roughly half the mass of the airplane," and it is "pushing the edge of

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Old 11-06-2016, 01:59 PM   #1
 
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Default First trip around the world without fuel, solar-powered plane takes off from America

Facebook said that batteries "account for roughly half the mass of the airplane," and it is "pushing the edge of high energy-density batteries," which hints that Facebook is possibly researching new battery technologies or designs. Additionally, building such an elaborate research drone costs a lot of money, and Facebook stressed it is "working with the industry" to more quickly and cheaply develop the kinds of technologies required to build more of these drones.



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The flight was a success, the team notes a few more challenges for the next test run: namely, will the plane be able to get enough sun to charge the batteries and keep the engines running at night. Or, in other words, is maintaining a fleet and building of drones going to be more of less expensive than laying fiber optic cable to the remote, internet-less regions of the world?

Facebook noted it originally planned on flying the drone for 30 minutes for the Yuma test flight, but the project went so well that operators extended the flight to 96 minutes.



Facebook's solar-powered, internet-beaming plane Aquila is finally ready for takeoff after two years of engineering and scale model flights. As the company reports today, a full-scale version of Aquila made its first official flight on June 28th, staying aloft for 96 minutes while the ground crew tested everything from the autopilot system to the radios and aerodynamics.

Facebook's solar-powered, Internet-beaming drone is one step closer to bringing the web to earth.

Still, Facebook has a long ways to go before it can start beaming the web to the ground from the Aquila drone. Aquila only flew to around 2,150 feet above the ground-- far from the 60,000 to 90,000 feet altitude in which it wants its yet-to-be developed drone fleet to hover.
Mark Zuckerberg checking out the drone.Facebook

There's the actual capability of the drone to continuously transmit wireless signals between other drones as well as stations down on the ground. Pulling that off successfully, "will require continued advances in engineering, science, and design," according to the Facebook blog post.

Aquila has the wingspan of a Boeing 737 and weighs about a third of a Toyota Prius car. When it flies in the air at cruising speed, it consumes roughly 5,000 watts, which is "the same amount as three hair dryers, or a high-end microwave," wrote Facebook vice president of infrastructure engineering Jay Parikh in a blog post about the flight.

While the test flight was obviously much shorter than the two months that Facebook plans to fly the drones in their final version, it pretty much verified the Facebook aeronautics team's computer models across the board. As the team wrote in a blog post today, the only hiccup appeared to be a structural failure just before landing.

The Aquila drone is part of Facebook's ambitious plans to bring the web to regions in the world where Internet connectivity is non-existent or bad. Facebook is looking for ways to beam the Internet down from the sky to these regions and has been working over the past few years on a custom-designed drone to help it do so.

The Facebook drone project is similar in idea to Google and its Project Loon Internet project. Whereas Google goog wants to use giant balloons that would hover in high altitudes to establish an aerial wireless network, Facebook wants to use a fleet of drones outfitted with solar panels, batteries, and an electric motor that could remain in the sky for three months.

The drone must also be able to stay up in the air at night, which could be difficult during the winter when there is less daylight, according to a Facebook engineering post on some of the challenges the social networks is trying to address. The solar panels need to collect "enough energy during the short days to keep the batteries charged over the long night, up to 14 hours at a time," the post elaborated.




While the test flight was obviously much shorter than the two months that Facebook plans to fly the drones in their final version, it pretty much verified the Facebook aeronautics team's computer models across the board. As the team wrote in a blog post today, the only hiccup appeared to be a structural failure just before landing. The flight was a success, the team notes a few more challenges for the next test run: namely, will the plane be able to get enough sun to charge the batteries and keep the engines running at night. Or, in other words, is maintaining a fleet and building of drones going to be more of less expensive than laying fiber optic cable to the remote, internet-less regions of the world? For now though, the team will focus on gathering even more data with more test flights and new aircraft designs.

The social networking giant said on Thursday that its unmanned aircraft, named Aquila, successfully passed its first test flight on June 28 in Yuma, Ariz. Facebook fb has been flying a smaller version of the drone over the past several months, the social network touted this test flight in late June was the first time it flew the actual drone.
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