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Project Loon
Balloon-powered Internet for everyone.
Balloon-powered Internet for everyone.


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Since Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, causing significant damage to the connectivity infrastructure, we have been working hard to see if it was possible to bring some basic internet connectivity back to the island.

Thanks to the support of the Government of Puerto Rico, the FCC, the FAA and a range of spectrum partners, we are now collaborating with AT&T to deliver emergency internet service to some of the hardest hit parts of the island.

While Project Loon is still an experimental technology and we’re not quite sure how well it will work, we hope this can be of some help to the people of Puerto Rico at this time.
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In response to the recent flooding in Peru, Project Loon has been working together with Telefonica and the Peruvian Government to deliver basic Internet connectivity to tens of thousands of people in affected areas around Lima, Chimbote and Piura.

In March, Peru was battered by extreme rains and flooding, with the government declaring more than 800 provinces to be in a state of emergency. Terrestrial communications infrastructure was severely impacted in many communities, leaving people unable to communicate with loved ones and gather critical, time-sensitive information.

Drifting 20 km up in the stratosphere, Loon balloons have the potential to extend connectivity to where it’s needed, regardless of what’s happening below. So, in partnership with Telefonica and the Peruvian Government, we attempted to help provide connectivity to flood affected areas across the country. Since turning on service seven weeks ago, Project Loon delivered basic Internet connectivity to more than 40,000km2 of the country, serving over 160 GB worth of data— enough to send and receive roughly 30 million WhatsApp messages, or 2 million emails.

Being able to deliver connectivity during the floods has only been possible with the support of many organizations. We’ve spent the last few months integrating balloon powered internet into Telefonica’s network so they could serve their customers from our balloons. Additionally, during the emergency response to the flood, O3B networks, Level 3 and Ecologistica Peru helped quickly set up ground stations (which connect the balloons to the Internet’s backbone) in areas with complete outages. Finally, the recent integration of Nokia’s proven LTE technology meant that the balloons could deliver improved LTE service.

While our new navigational algorithms made it possible to direct our airborne balloons to the areas affected, it was the support and overflight permissions from the Peruvian government—plus the support of governments, aviation officials and air traffic controllers throughout the region—that meant that we could get our balloons to where they were needed and land them safely when they were ready to come down.

We’ll continue to help deliver balloon powered internet over Peru for as long as it’s helpful, and we’d like to thank all those who have made it possible for us to do this.
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During our first pilot test in 2013, launching dozens of balloons from New Zealand to see if they’d circumnavigate the globe, we knew we had a lot to learn about how to use algorithms to move our balloons up and down and guide their paths through the sky. We thought we’d need a continuous stream of balloons around the world such that, as one balloon drifted away, another would be ready to take its place. We figured our main task would be to manage the balloons’ paths during their round the world journeys just enough to get them to drift over our Internet test locations in roughly equal intervals — so as one balloon moved out of range, another would move into place.

However, the more we flew, the more we realized that our algorithms were able to help the balloons do more than simply fly past our test sites on the ground. Our altitude control system was gradually getting better, so we were able to choose from a greater variety of winds and move ourselves north, south, east, or west. We wondered, what if instead of circling the world, we could ride these winds in small enough loops to cluster balloons over a single area? Forget a ring around the world - just hang out!

In mid 2016, we started sending balloons from our launch site in Puerto Rico to hang out in Peruvian airspace — and they did, some for as long as three months. We kept repeating the experiments and saw the same results: rather than send streams of balloons around the world, we had figured out how to cluster balloons in teams over a particular region.

Now that we can send small teams of balloons directly to areas that need connectivity, and get those balloons to spend more of their time in those areas, we believe we're years closer to our goal of bringing Internet connectivity to unserved areas.
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And the 2016 Golden Balloon goes to…..

Our annual Golden Balloon Awards recognize the Loon Balloons that have demonstrated epic feats of strength and stamina. They also shine a spotlight on some of the technical progress the team has made behind the scenes to bring us even closer to bringing connectivity to people around the world.

While in past years we’ve highlighted multiple high flyers, this year, one balloon stood out for its combination of endurance, agility and power. We called it The Bolt. The Bolt demonstrated an unmatched combination of navigational accuracy, balloon durability and sheer energetic endurance to set it apart from the flock.

A true all rounder, The Bolt set a new project record for balloon longevity, staying aloft for 190 days.

During its six-month-long adventure, The Bolt sailed more than 122,000 kilometers through the sky and hit top speeds of 162 kilometers per hour. To fuel this marathon effort, the balloon’s solar panels generated 1.72 gigajoules of energy over the course of the flight. If that amount of energy was deployed in seconds instead of months, it would be enough to spark a lightning bolt.

The Bolt’s high altitude tour started in Puerto Rico. From there, it floated over 19 different countries and three continents, sometimes reaching lofty heights of 20,353 meters - that’s the same view you’d have from the top of 65 Eiffel Towers stacked atop one another. Our new navigational algorithms, designed to maximize the time that balloons spend over areas where they can deliver connectivity to people on the ground, helped keep The Bolt on track. Bobbing up and down between the layers of the stratospheric winds, The Bolt made more than 30,000 maneuvers to stay on course during its global adventure.

In addition to the wild winds, The Bolt also endured extreme temperatures. Some nights it got as cold as -83C. That’s just a few degrees away from our record low of -90, and as icy as an Antarctic winter night. The Bolt is one of our “Nighthawk” designs, and its combination of strength and durability ensured that it was well equipped to withstand these extremes. (You can check out how we’ve evolved our balloon designs to make our fleet even stronger over the years here:

After travelling the equivalent of three circumnavigations around the world, we decided it was time to bring our rugged adventurer back home. So we navigated The Bolt back to our landing site in the Nevada desert for a well earned retirement. The lessons we’ve learned from The Bolt’s explorations will help us make future balloons even stronger.
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The Project Loon team has been hard at work developing the latest updates to our navigation technology, designed to maximise the time that our balloons spend over areas where people may be in need of connectivity. This summer, we put those updates to the test on one of our Latin America flights, managing to keep our balloon drifting within Peruvian airspace for a total of 98 days!

Loon balloons navigate by moving up or down into different wind patterns travelling in different directions in the stratosphere. From our millions of kilometers of test flights we’ve been able to develop sophisticated models that allow us to more accurately predict the wind patterns at different altitudes. Using this data, our software algorithms are able to determine which altitude has a wind pattern that gives us the best chance of keeping our balloons close to the areas where we want them.

To test the latest updates to our navigation technology, we set one adventurous balloon the mission of travelling to Peru from our launch site in Puerto Rico, and then staying in the region for as long as possible. After 12 days in transit, the balloon was able to spend most of its time in the stratosphere 20km over the areas around Chimbote, Peru, making dozens of altitude adjustments each day to find the right winds that could keep it within range. When a wind pattern couldn’t be found to keep the balloon over land, our algorithms picked the next best option, sending the balloon drifting out over the Pacific Ocean to pick up easterly winds that could help it sail back into position. In total, the balloon managed to spend 14 weeks in Peruvian airspace, which required making nearly 20,000 separate altitude adjustments during its flight.

After all that work, our balloon was understandably a little tired! So, we set a course for the flat, remote plains in the Ica region in Southern Peru where we coordinated with local Air Traffic Control for a controlled descent - with our local recovery partner on hand to welcome the balloon back to Earth. We still have a lot of testing ahead of us, but we’re optimistic about the prospect of our balloons spending more of their stratospheric journeys in locations where they can provide connectivity to people on earth below.
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How do you beam Internet connectivity hundreds of kilometers between balloons while they travel the stratospheric winds?

For many people, the closest Internet access point can be hundreds or even thousands of kilometers away. To extend connectivity to these areas, Project Loon needs to transmit a signal from Internet connection points on the ground, beam it across multiple balloons in the stratosphere, and then send that signal back down to users. This is particularly challenging given that all the while, each balloon in the chain is constantly in motion sailing the stratospheric winds. In this video, Baris Erkmen, Project Loon’s Technical Lead, shows us how the team has created a platform that allows for consistent high-speed data transmission across balloons traveling 20 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.
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Is it possible to smoothly and reliably launch a tennis-court sized balloon every 20 minutes?

This is the exact question our launch engineering team began to tackle back in 2014. At that time, winds blowing too heavily or in the wrong direction could cause significant delays for our balloon launches - and even with favourable winds, it could take scores of launch specialists hours to launch just one balloon into the stratosphere. With the goal of eventually launching enough balloons to provide Internet connectivity anywhere in the world, the team had to rethink the entire launch process for the balloons. In this video, engineering manager  Paul Frey and launch engineer Joe Benedetto explain how we’ve addressed these challenges with the development of our custom-built autolauncher.
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As Project Loon looks to build a ring of connectivity around the world in 2016, we need to be able to smoothly and reliably set-up new launch locations in far flung places.

We took a big step towards that goal this month by sending one of our autolaunchers, Chicken Little, on a working vacation to sunny Puerto Rico. After initial construction and testing in Wisconsin USA, Chicken Little was packed up and shipped to a new location over 3500 km away, where it was reassembled and used to successfully autolaunch a handful of test balloons. 

Chicken Little is one of a number of custom-built, 55ft tall autolaunch cranes, designed to fill, lift and launch our tennis-court sized balloons in under 30 minutes. Portable autolaunchers allow us to move our whole operation to places that give us access to favourable wind patterns that can help us provide Internet connectivity around the world.

It looks like Chicken Little and the Loon operations team are having a great time down in Puerto Rico, and making some new friends along the way - check out a selection of their vacation postcards…
Loon Puerto Rico
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It’s that time of year again folks! The red-carpet is out and the tuxedos and cocktail dresses are back from the dry-cleaners just in time for the glitz and glamour of our second annual Golden Balloon Awards.

This year’s awards shine the spotlight on some of the behind-the-scenes progress the team has made toward launching a ring of connectivity around the globe in 2016. We’ve been pushing the limits in testing this year, getting balloons up in the air faster, traveling further, and providing connections over longer and longer distances. So without further ado, we give you the best of the best from 2015...

#1 The Speed Racer - It would take the average clown at a birthday party 128 hours to inflate one of our tennis court sized Loon balloons and release it into the stratosphere (assuming the clown doesn’t pass out first), and by that point all the cake would be gone! Thankfully, we use our gigantic auto-launcher, custom designed to get Project Loon balloons from the box to the stratosphere quickly, safely and consistently. This year the team racked up a launch record of just 29 minutes to fill, lift and launch a Loon balloon into the stratosphere.

#2 The Globetrotter - Project Loon balloons have now travelled over 17 million kilometers since the project began, and this globetrotting balloon covered 113,000 km of them in just one flight, our longest distance traveller of 2015. Launched in May, the Globetrotter embarked on a journey of epic proportions, drifting in the stratosphere above 17 different countries before being brought to land in our Chilean recovery zone for a well-deserved retirement.

#3 The Dynamic Duo - Balloon-to-balloon communication allows Project Loon to connect even the most remote areas by bouncing signal across multiple balloons in the sky and back down to users many, many kilometers away. But, this is no easy task - transmitting data between balloons requires an accuracy equivalent to pointing a signal at a can of soda - 20 km up in the air and swaying in the wind! This award recognizes the tag-team effort of two very special balloons in demonstrating balloon-to-balloon connectivity. Launched in June as a simultaneous launch, this adorable couple were far from inseparable, at one point drifting over 100 km apart while data was continuously transmitted between them, the longest distance over which we have demonstrated balloon-to-balloon connectivity in the stratosphere.
Golden Balloon Awards 2015
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