South Somerset firm building drones for facebook to help connect the world

A South Somerset Engineering firm, based close to Yeovil, is building the prototype drones for Facebook to bring the internet to the remotest places on the planet.

Facebook bought the Somerset company Ascenta, and under the guidance of the company’s chief engineer Andrew Cox they are manufacturing the first drone, called Aquila 1, intended to fly 60,000ft above the earth for months at a time to beam broadband signals across the World. The drone’s wingspan is wider than a Boeing 737.

Facebook aims to use a mix of solar-powered aircraft and low-orbit satellites to beam signals carrying the internet to hard-to-reach locations. The drones will effectively be mobile phone masts able to bounce communication signals between satellites and telecom stations on Earth.

Mr Cox has had a long career in the aerospace industry. He was a key member of the team at British defence technology company Qinetiq that created the Zephyr drone that holds the record for an unmanned flight, which lasted two weeks. The team also includes experts who worked on the Breitling Orbiter, a balloon that was designed to circumnavigate the world.

The drones will fly above commercial airliners and as they are solar-powered, they will be able to stay in the air for months at a time

Ascenta is just one of many Aeronautical engineering companies that are thriving in Somerset, with a whole raft of world-leading companies especially in the Yeovil area. Ascenta are able to call upon a skilled workforce from the area where many are trained and employed at companies such as AgustaWestland; Honeywell Aerospace and Aerosystems International.