As if balloons were not enough for Google, the Mountain View internet 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).
According to a report in the Guardian , Google had created prototypes of such drones last year and is now testing them under a secret project named SkyBender.
The company has set up its own flight control centre at Spaceflight Operations Center and is temporarily using 15,000 square feet of hangar space in Gateway to Space terminal designed for the much-delayed Virgin Galactic spaceflights.
Under the project, Google is testing millimetre-wave radio transmissions which in high frequency could transmit gigabits of data every second which is more than any 4G LTE system. The drone will fly in high altitudes transmitting the data to all receptors at the ground level.
“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.
Rudell also explained Google was facing and said that millimetre wave transmissions have shorter range than phone signals and hence will die out at the one-tenth distance of a 4G signal. Google can only extend the range of this signal by using a phased array of this signal which is very difficult, complex and burns a lot of power, the professor said.
Skybender uses optionally piloted aircraft called Centaur as well as solar-powered drones developed by Google Titan, a division the Mountain View company formed after acquiring New Mexio startup Titan Aerospace in 2014.
The Guardian report 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 (FCC) has allowed Google to carry its tests in New Mexico till July. The company is paying $300,00 to Spaceport America which is great for the airport as it was literally closed after a prototype crashed. Christine Anderson, chief executive officer of Spaceport America, has 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.”
Currently, Google is paying Virgin Galactic $1,000 a day for the use of a hangar in the Gateway to Space building.
However, Google is not the only company which has thrown a hand with the millimetre wave transmission. Earlier in 2014, Darpa, the research arm of the US military, had announced a programme called Mobile Hotspots to make a fleet of drones that could provide one gigabit per second communications for troops operating in remote areas.