Google is once again in the sky; this time around the search giant is testing solar-powered drones at Spaceport America in New Mexico to explore new ways to deliver high-speed internet from the air (5G).
Reports in The Guardian said that the Mountain View search engine and tech giant has created prototypes of drones in 2016 and is now testing them under a secret project named SkyBender. The Mountain View tech giant is now testing them with multiple drones, according to documents obtained under public records laws, per The Guardian.
Google is temporarily using 15,000 square feet of hangar space in the glamorous Gateway to Space terminal designed by Richard Foster for the much-delayed Virgin Galactic spaceflights in order to house the drones and support aircraft.
Google, known for its groundbreaking designs and exploit in the area of technology, has also installed its own dedicated flight control centre in the nearby Spaceflight Operations Centre, separate from the terminal.
Project SkyBender, which is based out of the site near the town called Truth or Consequences, according to The Guardian, is using drones to experiment with millimetre-wave radio transmissions, which is believed to be one of the technologies that could underpin next generation 5G wireless internet access.
High frequency millimetre waves is known to be able to theoretically transmit gigabits of data every second, up to 40 times more than today’s 4G LTE systems. Google ultimately envisages thousands of high altitude “self-flying aircraft” delivering internet access around the world.
“The huge advantage of millimetre wave is access to new spectrum because the existing cellphone spectrum is overcrowded. It’s packed and there’s nowhere else to go,” Jacques Rudell, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle and specialist in this technology was quoted as saying.
The SkyBender system is being tested with an “optionally piloted” aircraft called Centaur as well as solar-powered drones made by Google Titan, a division formed when the company acquired New Mexico startup Titan Aerospace two years ago. Titan built high-altitude solar-powered drones with wingspans of up to 50 metres.
Google invested a lot of time working on building two communication installations on concrete pads at Spaceport-America last summer. However, Project SkyBender is part of the little-known Google Access team that also includes Project Loon, which is a plan to deliver wireless internet by using unpowered balloons floating through the stratosphere.
The Guardian also quoted emails between spaceport America and Google project managers that reveal the aircraft have exclusive use of the Spaceport’s runway during the tests and can even venture above the neighbouring White Sands Missile Range.
The Federal Communications Commission’s permission (FCC) will allow Google to carry its tests in New Mexico till July. The company is paying $300,000 to Spaceport America which is great for the airport as it was literally closed after a prototype crashed. Christine Anderson, the CEO of Spaceport America admitted that the facility is now running out of money.
“We are transitioning to supporting all aspects of the spaceport from our operational budget, as the [state] bonds have been spent except for the amount reserved for the southern road,” she wrote in a blog post earlier this month.
“We are asking the legislature for $2.8m … We appreciate that our request is a lot of money, but we also feel that it is a relatively small amount to protect the state’s $218.5m investment already made in the new and exciting commercial space industry.”
Google is currently paying Virgin Galactic $1,000 a day for the use of a hangar in the Gateway to Space building.