Facebook has acquired U.K.-based Ascenta, a designer and manufacturer of high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft, and intends to use the company's expertise with unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to beam Internet connectivity from the sky.
The social networking giant is a founder of the Internet.org project, a partnership between technology companies that aims to provide global Internet access. Through the newly announced Connectivity Lab, Facebook hopes to create new platforms to extend the reach of the Internet.
Thus, the company has bought Ascenta, reportedly for $20 million. According to Internet.org, Ascenta developed early versions of Zephyr, a solar-powered UAS, and as such, the five-member Ascenta team has now been tasked with helping to invent what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg terms ‘connectivity aircraft.’
In order to deliver the Internet to every corner of the Earth, Facebook and its Internet.org partners have their eyes on solar-powered, high-altitude, long-endurance UAS. The goal is for these aircraft to stay aloft for months at a time, providing Web connectivity for suburban areas in limited geographical regions.
As for lower density areas, Internet.org says low-Earth orbit and geosynchronous satellites can be deployed.
Regardless of the system used, free-space optical communication is the key. Internet.org reports that the technology transmits data through space via infrared laser beams and can potentially improve Internet connections provided by UAS and satellites.
In early March, reports surfaced that Facebook would acquire New Mexico-based UAS company Titan Aerospace, also for the purpose of delivering global Internet connectivity.
Photo courtesy of Internet.org