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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2016-09-23
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