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Facebook, one of the primary backers of the initiative, which aims to bring affordable Internet access to the 5 billion people in the world who still lack connectivity, is in talks with a company that could help further that agenda. TechCrunch is hearing that Facebook is buying Titan Aerospace, makers of near-orbital, solar-powered drones which can fly for five years without needing to land. According to a source with access to information about the deal, the price for this acquisition is $60 million.

Solara 50 UAV (Titan Aerospace)
Solara 50 UAV (Titan Aerospace)

According to sUAS News, Facebook is interested in using these high-flying drones to blanket parts of the world without Internet access, beginning with Africa. The company would start by building 11,000 of these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), specifically the Solara 60 model.

The Solara 50 and 60 models can be launched at night using power from internal battery packs, then when the sun rises, they can store enough energy to ascend to 20KM above sea level where they can remain for five years without needing to land or refuel. Such capabilities make them ideal for regional Internet systems, like those that would be focused on.

iHLS – Israel Homeland Security

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Titan Aerospace is a privately held venture with R&D facilities in New Mexico. The company has raised an undisclosed amount of funding through seed and Series A and A-1 rounds, and had announced in October 2013 it would open a B round soon.

Following the acquisition, all of Titan Aerospace’s production would be for the project only, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The project competes with Google’s own R&D effort called “Project Loon,” which would involve balloons, not aircraft. TechCrunch had previously heard that Facebook has its own counterpart to “Project Loon” in the works, and this could be a part of that agenda.