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The social media platform Facebook and aerospace manufacturer Airbus may seem an unlikely pairing, but they have is a mutual interest that has pushed them to join forces. Both are developing separate, solar-powered unmanned air systems that are designed to fly above 70,000ft for weeks at a time to provide broadband internet service in remote areas. These two giants have teamed up to lobby the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) allocate more capacity on the spectrum of radio signals for high-altitude pseudo-satellites (HAPS) and work together on development. HAPS is defined as a station on an object at an altitude of 20 to 50 km and at a specified, nominal, fixed point relative to the Earth.
Facebook has publicly acknowledged completing two flights of the high-altitude Aquila UAV, a flying wings with vertical winglets. Airbus, meanwhile, is testing the T-tailed Zephyr UAV family, which set a record-breaking, 14-day-long flight without refueling, according to flightglobal.com.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the new collaboration will unite the two development and test programs.
“We’re collaborating with Airbus to advance spectrum and aviation policy and continue to demonstrate the viability of HAPS systems for providing broadband connectivity,” Facebook says on its public Code blog.
In 2015, the World Radiocommunciation Conference (WRC) adopted Resolution 160, which calls on the ITU to study “additional spectrum needs.. for HAPS to provide broadband connectivity”. The next WRC will convene in October 2019 where it could decide to allocate more spectrum for HAPS vehicles.