By Kevin Robinson-Avila
Journal Staff Writer
A small New Mexico company in Moriarty may soon help Internet search giant Google Inc. enhance online services for users worldwide.
Google announced on Monday that it bought Titan Aerospace of Moriarty for an undisclosed price.
That local company is developing solar-powered drones at the Moriarty Municipal Airport, which Google could potentially use for everything from extending Internet connectivity in remote places to providing monitoring services in disaster situations.
“I believe we can play a major role in a lot of the things that Google is doing,” said Titan Chairman and CEO Vern Raburn.
That’s good news for New Mexico, since the company will remain housed here, and Google is expected to make substantial investments to develop Titan’s operations.
“Google is ready to make some pretty significant investments here,” Raburn told the Journal. “We’ll see some fairly big investments in facilities, and beyond that, growth of the company.”
Titan and Google declined to provide specifics, but Moriarty Mayor Ted Hart told the Journal that Titan’s new owners plan to build a 60,000-square-foot facility at the municipal airport, where Titan currently employs 20 people.
“We’ll do anything we can to help them out,” Hart said. “We’re excited to have Google be a part of Moriarty.”
Raburn said no details are available since the facility is still in the planning stages.
Acquisition by Google is a major achievement for a small firm that only began operations in 2010. The company, which started operating in Moriarty in 2012, touts its solar-powered drones as an inexpensive replacement for communications satellites. Rather than fly to space, the drones would fly to near-orbit altitude of about 65,000 feet. That’s higher than planes normally fly and much lower than where satellites generally operate.
The company calls them commercial atmospheric satellites, or “atmostats,” which could greatly lower the cost of launching and accessing satellite services.
The drones are embedded with thousands of photovoltaic cells, which power the aircraft during the day while storing energy in onboard battery banks to continue operating at night. That will allow the craft to remain continuously airborne for up to five years, according to Titan.
The planes are still under development, but the company expects to have its first one flying this summer.
“That’s when we’ll really validate everything,” Raburn said. “After that it will be one or two years before we have full-fledged commercial aircraft. We’re still very much in the research and development stage.”
But Google’s investment could greatly accelerate the process.
“For us, it’s the best thing that could happen,” Raburn said. “We now have the resources to do things that we only dreamed about.”
Google must yet decide how it will employ the aircraft, but it’s likely to boost a number of Google endeavors, such as its “Project Loon,” which aims to deploy technically adapted weather balloons to provide connectivity in places where its lacking or deficient.
“It’s still early days, but atmospheric satellites could help bring Internet access to millions of people, and help solve other problems, including disaster relief and environmental damage like deforestation,” the company said in a statement Monday. “It’s why we’re so excited to welcome Titan Aerospace to the Google family.”
The social media giant Facebook was reported in March to be in negotiations to purchase Titan for $60 million, something that neither that company nor Titan would confirm at the time. Facebook reportedly wanted to use Titan’s aircraft to provide Internet connectivity in Africa and other regions that lack infrastructure and Internet access.
However, Facebook has opted instead to acquire Ascenta – a U.K.-based aerospace company also developing solar-powered drones – for $20 million.
“Deals are deals,” Raburn said. “Sometimes they happen and some times they don’t. I’m very happy where we ended up with Google.”