Alphabet’s high-altitude internet Loon balloon sets new flight record over the stratosphere

Loon Balloon
Source: Loon

Alphabet’s (NASDAQ: GOOG, GOOGL) subsidiary, Loon (formerly Project Loon by Google), achieved another step toward its goal to provide affordable internet access to billions of people located in far-flung areas of the world.

One of the company’s high-altitude internet Loon balloons, the HBAL703 set a new record of 312 flight days over the stratosphere, longer than the previous flight record of 223 days held by another Loon balloon.

In a blog post, Loon CTO Salvatore Candido said they launched the HBAL703 from Puerto Rico in May 2019, navigated the U.S. territory, and then provided internet test service for three months. After that, they sent the Loon balloon south to circumnavigate the globe. It floated over the Pacific Ocean for another seven months until it finally landed in Baja, Mexico in March 2020.

“This new duration record is exciting not because we flew one balloon for 312 days, but because it is a very visible indicator that our efforts to make all of our flight systems last longer is working,” said Candido. 

Candido detailed their design changes and hard work since Google launched Project Loon with an experimental pilot in New Zealand, where a small group tested the technology in New Zealand in 2013.  

He even made fun of the 2013 Loon balloon, saying, ”Since the beginning of Loon, we’ve questioned the assumptions about how stratospheric balloons should be built, trying alternative materials, varying the recipe by which that material is seamed together, and exploring different designs.”

“We’ve tried a lot of things, and some of them have looked quite strange. In fact, some of one early homebrew balloon prototype was mistaken for a UFO, including one memorable sighting in Eastern Kentucky.” 

After more than seven years of designing, system engineering, modeling and simulation, experimentation, and analysis, Candido said they achieved so much.

Loon is beginning to understand that the stratosphere represents a multi-billion dollar market

“So what are those efforts and how have we come so far? Like almost every hard problem, the high-level answers are the same: 7+ years (and counting) of determination to keep improving, working both smart and hard, and a combination of a few key innovations,” wrote Candido. 

Furthermore, he stated that for 312 days, they used the Loon balloon ” primarily for connectivity” and they are “beginning to understand that this is just scratching the surface of the opportunity presented by the stratosphere.”

Moreover, he noted that his “Loon colleagues published a whitepaper discussing the massive opportunity in the stratosphere, which represents a multi-billion dollar market spanning telecommunications, high-resolution earth observation, and weather prediction and modeling.”

Candido and his colleagues are working hard to keep every Loon balloon flight loner over the stratosphere.

“Longer Loon flights let us reach and persist in places (like over the middle of the Pacific ocean) that are typically hard to remain for extended periods of time. That all adds up to being able to scale our cell towers in the sky to more people and places and continue toward our mission of connecting people everywhere,” according to him.

Loon is racing with both Amazon and SpaceX,  which are also aiming to provide affordable internet to people in every corner of the planet. Both companies are developing low-orbit satellite networks.

SpaceX recently announced that its Starlink satellite internet service will cost $99 per month. Some consumers already received an invitation to participated in the company’s  “Better Than Nothing” public beta test of the service.


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