Welcome all to the inaugural Golden Balloon Awards 2014!
We are taking this opportunity to look at some of the greatest feats achieved by our Loon balloons as we wind our way to the end of 2014 and finish landing our fleet for analysis and upgrade. From frosty temperatures to country hoppers, speed demons to masters of endurance, we take a look at some of the records from the project to date. Here we go…
#1 The Marathoner - Launched from New Zealand in July 2014, the Marathoner just kept going and going, reaching 134 days aloft before being brought down to land in Chile. Constantly monitoring such a long-lasting balloon throughout its lifetime has provided us with lots of valuable data that can help us replicate this success in the future.
#2 Global Traveller - While much of our fleet spends its time sweeping around the globe, we decided that one balloon should take its time discovering the Southern Hemisphere. So we packed its bags, gave it some sage travelling advice in the form of our automated control algorithms and sent it on its own little trip around the world - and what a trip it had! Launching from Brazil as part of our LTE test in June 2014, we maneuvered it over 23 separate countries across South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania before finally landing it with a full passport and a balloon full of memories.
#3 Sprint Star - The quickest a Loon balloon has travelled is 324 km/h while rushing to the South Pacific ocean over Antarctica - a similar speed to the world’s fastest animal, a fellow traveller of the skies, the Peregrine Falcon. Like any good sprinter though, this balloon needed to rest up, reducing its speed to a relatively sluggish 67 km/h while travelling over the south of Argentina, and it is this difference in speed that is really important to us. To provide coverage where and when it’s needed will require balloons to whiz over certain areas and linger for longer at others so that there is always a balloon overhead where needed.
#4 The Frosty Survivor - It can get very, very cold up in the stratosphere. The coldest temperature one of our balloons had to endure was -83°C (-117°F) while travelling over the Chilean/Argentine border. The cold is a real challenge for our balloon manufacturing team. At such low temperatures the balloon envelope can become brittle and fragile. Selecting the right material and stress-testing it at extremely low temperatures in our labs has helped ensure that Loon balloons are durable enough to handle these temperatures for long periods of time.
#5 High-Flier - All Loon balloons fly roughly 20 kilometers above the earth’s surface, twice as high as commercial jets. This high-flier, however, reached our record altitude of 25.8 kilometers while travelling over the South Pacific ocean; nearly three times the height of Mount Everest. Altitude control is fundamental for maneuvering balloons, as different altitudes have different wind speeds and directions which our planning algorithms can predict and use to get our balloons to where they need to be. So, to our high-flier, we salute you for reaching higher than any Loon balloon has ever reached before!