The internet has become a critical means of communication during humanitarian crises and a crucial everyday tool for people around the world. Now, a Portuguese company wants to make sure everyone has access to it. Quarkson plans to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to transmit internet access "to every corner of the world."
Quarkson's SkyOrbiter program is similar to Google's Project Loon, which also seeks to deliver internet access to remote places. Where Google plans to float internet-enabled balloons above the earth, however, Quarkson intends to use a fleet of high-range UAVs much like the Titan Aerospace Solara 50 to deliver connectivity from orbit.
The SkyOrbiter fleet comprises six different low-altitude models and three high-altitude models. The most basic SkyOrbiter is the LA25. It is designed for commercial and government use and is able to provide connectivity to areas where none is available. The LA25 has a wingspan of about 25 m (82 ft), operates at 3,500 m (11,500 ft) and has a range of over 42,000 km (26,000 mi) or up to two weeks.
Each of the subsequent low altitude SkyOrbiters has an increased wingspan and range right up to the LA75, which has a wingspan of 75 m (246 ft) and a range of over 150,000 km (93,000 mi) or up to seven weeks. Unlike the low-altitude models, the high altitude UAVs orbit at 22,000 m (72,000 ft) and can stay in orbit for years as opposed to weeks. The most advanced of the high-altitude models, the HA75, has a wingspan of around 75 m (246 ft) and a range of up to 5,000,000 km (3,000,000 mi) or five years.
The low-altitude SkyOrbiters series will be powered primarily by fossil fuel based technology. According to Quarkson, this will provide the best performance in terms of endurance. The high altitude SkyOrbiters, however, will be powered more similarly to the aforementioned Solara, with a solar array on its wings and body parts.
Quarkson says that the SkyOrbiters can accommodate different weights and types of payload depending on what data may need to be collected. The UAVs can be used for a variety of purposes in addition to providing internet access, including aerial imaging, security and military applications, environmental monitoring and in agriculture.
Users can manage their fleet of SkyOrbiters using the Constellation Manager system. Its HC-LOS ground antennas can be used to connect to the UAVs using the company's Q-SATCOM bi-directional data link or its SkyLink wireless communication system.
Quarkson is in the process of fundraising and development for a number of "challenges" that it aims to complete for testing. Its Maiden Flight challenge will see the SkyOrbiter LA25 fly for the first time and provide proof of concept. The challenges will culminate Pole-to-Pole and Around the World flights.
Update 23 Sept 2014: This article has been updated to include information on how the UAVs are expected to be powered.