Google’s Project Loon Balloons Can Now Be Launched Faster, Fly Longer

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
The hot air balloons being used as part of Project Loon, the Google initiative to bring high-speed Internet access to remote regions of the planet, can now fly 10 times longer than they did in 2013, with some remaining airborne for over 100 days, the Mountain View, California-based company revealed on Thursday.
In addition, Google said that it is able to launch up to 20 of these balloons each day, thanks in part to improvements made to its autofill equipment that allows each of them to be filled with air in less than five minutes, according to VentureBeat’s Emil Protalinski.
The company also revealed that Project Loon balloons have collectively flown 3 million kilometers (roughly 1.86 million miles), equivalent to circumnavigating the Earth nearly 75 times or traveling to the moon and back approximately four times, Protalinski added. The company attributes its success to good old-fashioned trial and error, through which they found multiple ways to refine the process and prevent errors.
“We’ve learned a great deal about what it will take to bring the Internet to everyone, no matter where they are,” Google officials posted to the Project Loon Google+ page. “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.”
That was “just one of the hundreds of discoveries that has helped prevent leaks and refine our automated manufacturing process,” the company added. “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.”
The Project Loon balloons and their flight-control systems were built by Raven Aerostar, a company that manufactures balloons for the government-sponsored and NASA-run Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, and the first of them were launched in August 2013. They are about 40 feet tall and 50 feet wide, use helium for lift, operate from the stratosphere and can be piloted remotely.
“We believe that it might actually be possible to build a ring of balloons, flying around the globe on the stratospheric winds, that provides Internet access to the earth below,” Google officials said after announcing Project Loon in June 2013. “It’s very early days, but we’ve built a system that uses balloons, carried by the wind at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes, to beam Internet access to the ground at speeds similar to today’s 3G networks or faster.”
While the initiative has been criticized by Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Google is not the only company working on a way to bring Internet access to less developed nations. Facebook is reportedly working on a fleet of drones, satellites and airplanes designed to bring remote broadband access to remote parts of the world, said Fast Company West Coast correspondent Alice Truong.
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