The unmanned aerial vehicles, also called atmospheric satellites, could be used by Facebook to blanket parts of the world currently without internet access, according to a source who spoke to TechCrunch. Facebook is in talks to acquire Titan Aerospace for $60 million.
Facebook is part of the internet.org initiative attempting to bring affordable internet access to 5 billion people worldwide.
Titan Aerospace unveiled its drones last year and plans to build 11,000, specifically the Solara 60 model. The drones are similar to low-orbit satellites and can conduct similar operations like weather monitoring, disaster recovery, Earth imaging, or communications, with Facebook interested in the last functionality.
The Solara 60 and Solara 50 models can be launched at night using an internal battery, and once the the sun rises they can store enough energy to rise to 12 miles and stay there for 5 years, making them ideal as a regional internet system for far-flung areas.
The New Mexico-based company is currently led by CEO Vern Raburn and was founded in 2012 by Max Yaney, the current CTO, with the aim of building what they call atmosats to do the work of near-Earth satellites at a fraction of the cost.
These atmosats have been classified as satellites, as they will be flown above 60,000 feet, the altitude above which the Federal Aviation Administration has no jurisdiction. But the FAA will have authority over the landing and taking off of such vehicles from U.S. airspace.