Athena: Zuckerberg’s New Baby

Athena is no longer a secret. Mark Zuckerberg’s new baby is all set to arrive into this world. And waiting for its arrival, is not just Zuckerberg himself, but the entire international community. No, Mark and Priscilla are not expecting their third child. But the CEO and co-founder of Facebook is all set to father his baby, Athena. Baffled?

Athena, all primed and set to debut in 2019, would be Facebook’s very own satellite technology. Being built by FB’s subsidiary, PointView Tech, the internet beaming satellite aims at bringing broadband connectivity to `unserved and underserved areas.’ The project which had originally been filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2017, was kept a secret. Steering clear of media, Facebook had shied away from an official confirmation for along period of time. The company which had long stayed mum, has finally affirmed the building of the satellite. The ambitious project, is meant to connect rural and remote areas through internet. The multi-million dollar experimental satellite would beam data from low-earth orbit via millimetre wave radio signals. Competing with the likes of Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Softbank-backed OneWeb, FB is trying to strengthen its footing in the space of internet satellite technology.

The Unfortunate Cessation of Aquila

It is well known that Facebook has always been an advocate of unrestricted and non-discriminatory access to internet. However, unfortunately its previous attempts at the technology haven’t led to fruition. In a bid to connect the remote corners of the world via the net, FB launched Aquila in 2016. Aquila, an experimental solar powered drone was developed by Facebook’s Connectivity Lab. Meant to be used as an atmospheric satellite, the drone acted as a relay station to beam data to secluded and isolated parts of the world. Hovering 60,000 feet above far-flung areas, the solar powered drone intended to provide net connectivity to a 50 miles-radius area in its flight path.

Unfortunately, the prototype suffered a structural failure during its first flight. Flown for the first time on 28 June, 2016, Aquila crashed after a successful 96-minute flight. Undeterred by the mishap, FB still continued to develop the drone. By modifying it with additional spoilers and propellers, the social media giant tried to augment the project. It was tested for the second time on 22 May, 2017 and the drone’s one hour, forty six minute flight was considered successful. Later, a deal was struck with Airbus in November 2017.  FB worked on expanding the project and supplementing it with the `high altitude platform station broadband connectivity system’ (HAPS) project. But the company decided to shut down the project in 2018. In a blogpost on June 27, FB officially announced the cessation of the Aquila and the HAPS project.

Grandiose Plans to Connect the World

To the utter dismay of Zuckerberg, his envisioned plan of a fleet of solar powered drones didn’t work out. Nonetheless, he remained steadfast in his resolve to connect the world. The FB thus conceived Athena. The lofty project would be a step towards bridging the digital divide. The satellite technology acts as an important enabler of the next generation of broadband infrastructure. It would provide broadband connectivity to backward and deprived areas of the world. FB, a strong proponent of the free and unrestricted policy of internet, has taken several such initiatives in the past as well. Earlier, Facebook’s FreeBasics Programme had intended to stream free data to its subscribers. But this proposition had to be outlawed in India as it was found to be in defiance with net neutrality regulations. In an era where geostationary satellites are replacing fibre optic cables, FB just couldn’t afford to fall behind in this growing space.

One must however, remember that it would be an arduous process, as a large network of satellites is required for an effective data connectivity. The development of broadband connectivity employing lower orbit satellites, would require a huge network of hundreds or thousands of satellites in order to be effective, unlike the larger satellites that hover at higher orbits. So the ultimate challenge for the company would be in making the satellite technology cost-efficient. Witnessing how they surmount the challenge of making the technology affordable and inexpensive, would make up for a truly interesting case in the realm of satellite technology.

Picture Credits: YouTube

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