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Dennis Ideler
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"We live in the computer age, a world increasingly shaped by programmers." -Paul Graham
"We live in the computer age, a world increasingly shaped by programmers." -Paul Graham

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3 million kilometers is a long journey. That distance would take you around the earth 75 times, or get you to the moon and back nearly 4 times over. It also happens to be the distance our Loon balloons have travelled through the stratosphere since the project began last year.

In that time we’ve learned a great deal about what it will take to bring the Internet to everyone, no matter where they are. For example, what footwear is it best for our manufacturing team to wear when they need to walk on the balloon envelopes? Turns out it’s very fluffy socks, the fluffier the better, to ensure the least amount of friction when building our balloons. This is just one of the hundreds of discoveries that has helped prevent leaks and refine our automated manufacturing process so that our balloons now last 10 times longer in the stratosphere than they did in 2013, with many lasting 100 days or more (our current record is 130 days!).

It’s one thing for our balloons to last longer, but to build a ring of connectivity around the world we’ll also need to get more in the air. Imagine how long it would take you and your friends to inflate 7,000 party balloons. That’s what it takes to fill just one of our Loon balloons for flight, so we’ve developed autofill equipment that will be capable of doing it in under 5 minutes. We now have the ability to launch up to 20 balloons per day as we continue to improve our ability to launch consistently at scale.

As we’ve launched more long-lasting balloons in the stratosphere we’ve needed to ensure that we can accurately maneuver them to where they need to go. By constantly computing thousands of trajectory simulations it turns out we can get pretty close to our targets.  For example, one flight came within 1.5km of our target destination over a flight of 9,000 kilometers, purely through predicting and sailing with the stratospheric winds. This is great for getting our balloons to where users need them, and great for getting balloons to our recovery zones at the end of their lifetime to make our recovery team’s job that much easier.

But perhaps one of the best illustrations of the progress we’ve made in our journey thus far are these pictures showing one of our uber-sophisticated launches from the earliest days of Project Loon compared to one of our more recent efforts. What a difference 3 million kilometers make; here’s to many more! 
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2014-11-20
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Some Eclipse teams and the Freeseer team at Facebook's Open Academy code sprint.

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In the most recent Ask Away video, Dan demonstrated how Loon balloons can arrange themselves to provide good coverage on the ground. But in order for any given balloon to get to the right place at the right time, it will need to surf a wind blowing in the right direction. Like travelers who use a train schedule, Loon balloons require a sort of wind schedule that they can reference to see what winds are leaving from where, when. In this week’s Ask Away, Keith takes us through the making of the wind schedule.

Thank you for your wind questions +Jerald Sabu, and +Korakot Chaovavanich. Please continue to #AskAway !

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