Sunday, June 16, 2013

Project Loon: When, Where and How?

Google has launched a small network of balloons over New Zealand in an experiment it hopes could bring reliable Internet access to the world's most remote regions, the company said late Friday.

Project Loon balloons float in the stratosphere, twice as high as airplanes and the weather. They are carried around the Earth by winds and they can be steered by rising or descending to an altitude with winds moving in the desired direction. People connect to the balloon network using a special Internet antenna attached to their building. The signal bounces from balloon to balloon, then to the global Internet back on Earth.

Project Loon starts in June 2013 with an experimental pilot in New Zealand. A small group of Project Loon pioneers will test the technology in Christchurch and Canterbury.

The 30 balloons deployed in New Zealand this month will beam internet to a small group of pilot testers and be used to refine the technology and shape the next phase of Project Loon, Google said.

Google announced the project on its official blog post.

Project Loon balloons travel around 20 km above the Earth’s surface in the stratosphere. Winds in the stratosphere are generally steady and slow-moving at between 5 and 20 mph, and each layer of wind varies in direction and magnitude. Project Loon uses software algorithms to determine where its balloons need to go, then moves each one into a layer of wind blowing in the right direction. By moving with the wind, the balloons can be arranged to form one large communications network.

The balloon envelope is the name for the inflatable part of the balloon. Project Loon’s balloon envelopes are made from sheets of polyethylene plastic and stand fifteen meters wide by twelve meters tall when fully inflated. They are specially constructed for use in superpressure balloons, which are longer-lasting than weather balloons because they can withstand higher pressure from the air inside when the balloons reach float altitude. A parachute attached to the top of the envelope allows for a controlled descent and landing whenever a balloon is ready to be taken out of service.

Each balloon can provide connectivity to a ground area about 40 km in diameter at speeds comparable to 3G. For balloon-to-balloon and balloon-to-ground communications, the balloons use antennas equipped with specialized radio frequency technology. Project Loon currently uses ISM bands (specifically 2.4 and 5.8 GHz bands) that are available for anyone to use.

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