Facebook drops its solar-powered internet drone project, Aquila

After four years of interminability, Facebook has announced to finally drop its plan of developing the gigantic Aquila solar-powered internet plane that was supposed to beam Internet service to underserved communities via laser.

According to sources, the social media giant will not be designing its own aircraft and will soon be closing its Bridgewater facility. However, the company claims to continue to support the efforts undertaken by other partners like Airbus that will help advance HAPS (high altitude platform stations).

If sources are to be believed, the closing of the Bridgewater facility may hinder the employment scenario. The company has reported a direct loss of 16 jobs associated with the maintenance and development of the project.

For the record, the seeds of the program had been sowed much before, ever since Facebook’s acquisition of Ascenta in the year 2014. It has been reported with Facebook’s initiative of Aquila project in 2015, the company envisioned to provide internet access to nearly 4 billion underserved people. Allegedly, the solar-powered unmanned drone was intended to fly continuously in 3-mile circles for months at an altitude of 11 miles to 16 miles, while relaying a satellite service within a 30-mile radius on the ground.

The full-scale test flight was two years later in 2016, which resulted in structural failure, hard landing, and ultimately an NTSB investigation. The second flight trial was comparatively better, but far away from perfect, cite sources familiar with the matter.

Industry experts speculate that scaling back from the project might have been a wise decision from Facebook’s perspective, given the hefty scale of investment required to establish this kind of gigantic aircraft from scratch. Having recognized the vast gap present between a veteran aerospace company and social media firm with regards to core competencies and expertise, Facebook might have taken the decision of no longer pursuing the project, they further claim.