Facebook's CTO just gave us a new glimpse of how it's going to deliver the web from solar-powered planes that shoot lasers

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Mike Schroepfer Joi Ito from Inbamura, Japan / Flickr, CC Mike Schroepfer

Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer told attendees at Web Summit in Dublin today that Facebook is about to begin real-world testing of its new system to deliver broadband internet globally via solar-powered planes that stay aloft in space for 3 months at a time, communicating with lasers.

Facebook first began talking about its "Aquila" planes, for delivering internet coverage to remote or poor areas in the developing world, earlier this year. Today, Schroepfer gave us a few more details on how far along Facebook is in its development of this airplane fleet, and the engineering challenges ahead of it.

Each Aquila plane will have the wingspan of a Boeing 737, and fly at up to 90,000 feet for three months at a time.

Aquila Jim Edwards

Each plane is incredibly light, and its engines will be powered by solar panels.
aquila Facebook

Schroepfer said, "a full-scale version of this aircraft is now fully constructed and we'll be undergoing flight tests very, very soon."

Aquila Facebook

The planes will receive broadband signals from the nearest city with internet service, beamed up via laser. Each Aquila plane will then be able to transmit and share the signals to any other plane in the network.

Aquila Jim Edwards

The engineering challenge is that each plane's lasers are aimed over 11 miles, the equivalent of laser pointer trying to hit a 10 euro cent coin. "And oh, by the way, that coin is moving while you're trying to hit it," Schroepfer said .

Not only that but the lasers must be aimed through an environment affected by heat, dust, and temperature differences, which all bend light.

Nonetheless, Facebook expects to be able to deliver tens of gigabytes, 10X better than "existing solutions," Schroepfer said .

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