I can’t say I am surprised, Facebook’s recent admission of a lack of landing for their internet-beaming drone Aquila shows just how hard high-level flight can be. Platforms designed to fly high above the weather are vulnerable in a heavy, moving, turbulent low-level atmosphere.
Titan has had troubles of their own, they have never flown a large high altitude platform with success. Google bought Titan Aerospace in 2014.
They crashed a prototype early in testing, which can be expected, I suppose. Then in August 2015 they moved out of hangers at Moriarty Airport and had to repay, or rather Google had to repay, one million dollars of economic assistance funds to New Mexico taxpayers.
An Alphabet X spokesperson provided the following media statement:
The team from Titan was brought into X in early 2016. We ended our exploration of high-altitude UAVs for internet access shortly after. By comparison, at this stage, the economics and technical feasibility of Project Loon present a much more promising way to connect rural and remote parts of the world. Many people from the Titan team are now using their expertise as part of other high-flying projects at X, including Loon and Project Wing.
I bet Google, and by extension, Alphabet X, are kicking themselves that they didn’t buy the team responsible for Aquila. I am still very pleased to be able to say that, to date, the most successful high altitude pseudo-satellite (HAPS) is British! Zephyr originally made by QinetiQ and now owned by Airbus. In 2010 it flew for 336 hrs and 22 minutes and is continually improving.
Biting at their heels and perhaps another one to watch SolarAtlantik who have flown for eighty-one hours. As the name rather suggests, they hope to fly their platform across the Atlantic. The flight should take off from Bell Island in Canada and take seven days to reach Lisbon, Portugal.
Good luck to AtlantikSolar and the others still pushing on. The benefits of HAPS make them compelling platforms.