March 31, 2014      

Facebook may be more than half-a-million dollars richer now that founder Mark Zuckerberg has decided to work for only $1 a year.

That frees up a few pennies for Facebook to continue its acquisition streak, including last month’s buy of the five-member engineering team at solar-powered drone maker Ascenta ? formerly called High Altitude Engineering – for reportedly less than $20 million.

According to the Financial Times, the acquisition was of the engineers – not the company – who have a century’s worth of aerospace experience among them. And the price is a relative pittance given the $2 billion price Facebook recently paid for virtual reality headset maker Oculus Rift and the $19 billion for messaging service What’s App.

In a March 27 message on his personal Facebook page, Zuckerberg placed the purchase in context, saying: “We’ve been working on ways to beam Internet to people from the sky.”

He added, “Today we are also bringing on key members of the team from Ascenta, a small UK-based company whose founders created early versions of Zephyr, which became the world’s longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft. They will join our team working on connectivity aircraft” in Facebook’s Connectivity Lab.

Facebook either was outbid for or decided to drop out of the competition to acquire another solar drone maker, Titan Aerospace, which was scooped up by Google.

The Ascenta team will be moving from Somerset to Facebook’s West End office in London, according to the Financial Times.

In a white paper for Internet.org, the non-profit organization he co-founded last year, Zuckerberg says: “Drones operating at 65,000 feet are ideal. At this altitude, a drone can broadcast a powerful signal” from “a layer in the atmosphere that has very stable weather conditions.”

The technology is called HALE: High Altitude Long Endurance.

“With the efficiency and endurance of high-altitude drones, it’s even possible that aircraft could remain aloft for months or years.” The drones, he says, have “more endurance than balloons, while also being able to have their location precisely controlled. And unlike satellites, drones won’t burn up in the atmosphere when their mission is complete. Instead, they can be easily returned to Earth for maintenance and redeployment.”

The ground component apparently is even easier, he asserts. Zuckerberg envisions a business or organization in a rural village buying an inexpensive “unit” to pick up signals. “Aerial connectivity is relatively plug-and-play. You can get an Internet box and pick signals from whatever is overhead.”

If you’d like to make this dream a reality and help Zuckerberg have a happy 30th birthday next month, Facebook is actively soliciting job applications. That way, you can do your part to help the two-thirds of Earth’s population without Internet to obtain it ? and, perhaps, become Facebook users in the process.