Yael Maguire, the engineering director at Facebook Connectivity Lab, appears in a recent YouTube posting explaining the reasons and plans to deliver Internet signals from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) flying for months above the jet stream. He explains the plan quite well and correctly:
He also explains Facebook’s ‘Future of Connectivity’ more than a decade after both the US Air Force and commercial firms did the same thing.
StratXX, a Swiss company, originally proposed covering the African continent with unmanned airships floating at 20km altitude, linked to each other by laser and to the world by satellite. They’re now flying broadcast tests with tethered aerostats floating at one kilometer above the ground.
Janes Defense Weekly published one of many articles on the US Air Force’s plans for “Near Space” exactly ten years ago with: www.spacedata.net. Googling the string turns up many stories. Some of them show initial Air Force enthusiasm for that flight environment, some highlight contracts to deliver ‘near space’ communication through high-tech balloons, while others show later dismantling of the effort as it proved to threaten traditional satellite and UAV budgets. Threatening old technology is a sure sign that you’re on to something.
A market research company called Homeland Security Research Corporation (www.hsrc.com) published a technology forecast in 2008 that included correctly shaped unmanned airships over Los Angeles, each also linked by laser and using satellite communications.
The Chinese published correct aerodynamic research five years ago. The Russians published a credible stratospheric UAV airship design five years before that.
In reinventing this plan, however, Facebook’s team has made a common and fatal mistake. They’re planning to use heavier-than-air planes. Given the limitations of solar power generation, electricity storage, propulsion and aerodynamics at 20km altitude, such platforms are destined to fail.
Market Info Group (MiG) published several UAV forecasts that include details on this technology and the incredibly profitable markets. The aerodynamics of conventional aircraft is just one of the many technical details they explain. That critical and terminal problem is nicely summarized in article, called “Understanding High-altitude Aerodynamics Is Critical“, which includes, for example, this insight: “Surprisingly, high-altitude stalls occur at a significantly lower angle of attack than many once believed, thereby providing a much narrower maneuvering margin. The stall occurs at a lower angle of attack because of the altered dynamics of airflow at higher Mach numbers and compressibility effects.” For non-pilots, that means you will stall (stop flying) much sooner than expected and can’t recover. It’s likely the reason the prototype Global Observer UAV crashed on April 1st, 2011; the program was then cancelled.
MiG’s research and analysis lists many other technical problems, such as the fact that about 80% of the plane’s energy goes into staying airborne, leaving too little left for a payload. In other words, Facebook must choose between flying and operating the Internet radios. They won’t be able to do both with existing or foreseeable aircraft technology.
AMSTERDAM and COLORADO SPRINGS, Feb. 22, 2017 /Newswire/ — Market Forecast a subsidiary of ASD Media BV and a leader of aerospace & defense market research solutions and services, has completed its acquisition of the Market Info Group (MIG), a global creator of reliable and unbiased defense industry research reports and consulting services for more than 7 years. The Market Info Group businesses’ assets are being integrated with Market Forecast, enabling existing services to be enhanced and creating huge new opportunities for clients of both services.
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