Facebook confirms the existence of Athena — a secret internet satellite project
Facebook is secretly working on an internet satellite project named Athena to enable broadband connectivity to remote and rural areas. Well, it's no longer a secret anymore as the company had just confirmed to CNET and WIRED about its existence. Athena is being built by Facebook's subsidiary PointView Tech and will compete with the likes of SpaceX and OneWeb. Speaking to CNET and WIRED, a Facebook representative said,
While we have nothing to share about specific projects at this time, we believe satellite technology will be an important enabler of the next generation of broadband infrastructure, making it possible to bring broadband connectivity to rural regions where internet connectivity is lacking or non-existent."
The information came to light when IEEE Spectrum first spotted an FCC listing that revealed details about a multi-million dollar experimental satellite being developed by PointView Tech LLC. PointView Tech was a clandestine company in Delaware with no annual filings or directors but a some investigation traced its origins to Facebook, California.
According to the FCC filing, Athena will deliver 10 times more data than competing internet satellites such as SpaceX's Starlink. However, SpaceX is looking to put about 12,000 satellites into the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) while OneWeb backed by SoftBank, Qualcomm, and Virgin Group plans to put out 2,500 LEO satellites. Both Starlink and OneWeb plan to provide Gigabit internet globally. Athena's E-band system can go up to 10 Gbps download and 30 Gbps upload using millimeter-wave radio signals but how many satellites will be launched is not known. Using the Freedom of Information Act request, WIRED managed to know that Athena is being readied for an early 2019 launch. Millimeter waves can quickly get attenuated so PointView Tech plans to study and publish its findings over a two-year period. The FCC will also have to ensure that crowding of the LEO space does not result in satellite collisions.
While Athena is certainly an ambitious effort, it is not the first such attempt from the social networking giant. In June this, Facebook abandoned its plan of building Aquila — a solar-powered drone with a wingspan of a Boeing 737 — that was part of the efforts to provide internet connectivity to remote areas via high frequency radio signals.