Airbus Challenges SpaceX with Zephyr: Solar-Powered Internet Service in the Works

Airbus Challenges SpaceX with Zephyr: Solar-Powered Internet Service in the Works

Airbus, the European aviation giant, is getting ready to step into the internet service sphere with its new innovation, the Zephyr. This unmanned solar-powered aircraft might just pose a challenge to SpaceX, aiming to offer internet services as early as next year.

The Zephyr is designed to soar in the stratosphere, cruising at altitudes between 20 to 50 kilometers. According to Aalto Haps, the British subsidiary of Airbus responsible for its construction, this incredible aircraft can cover a vast 7,500 square kilometer area with internet connectivity, matching 5G speeds of up to 200 Mbps.

Samer Halawi, the CEO of Aalto, has revealed plans to kick off the service in Kenya, likely launching in the third quarter of the upcoming year. Their goal? Building around 50 to 75 of these solar-powered drones each year.

This move by Airbus puts them in direct competition with SpaceX and their Starlink satellite constellation, which currently provides high-speed internet access in several African countries, including Kenya. SpaceX is gearing up to extend Starlink’s coverage to almost every African nation in the coming year.

The Zephyr is part of the High Altitude Platform Stations (Haps) category. It’s quite a marvel, boasting a 25-meter wingspan and weighing 75 kilograms, with a maximum takeoff weight of 80 kilograms. Fueled by solar cells on its wings, it operates at altitudes nearing 20 kilometers, powered by two electric propellers.

Originally developed by the British company Qinetiq, Airbus took over the Zephyr in 2013. It’s built for long missions, capable of lasting up to 200 days. The longest flight yet, lasting 64 days in August 2022, unfortunately ended with a crash, though it remains the record for the longest flight of an unmanned aircraft.

Interestingly, this idea of using high-altitude platforms as flying communication stations isn’t entirely new. Facebook had a similar project named Aquila, powered by a solar drone, but it was shelved. Google also experimented with balloons through Project Loon, though that initiative was also brought to an end.

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Carl Woodrow
A seasoned tech enthusiast and writer, Carl delves deep into emerging technologies, offering insightful analysis and reviews on the latest gadgets and trends.