Living without internet is frustrating. Period. To solve this problem in remote areas, Google’s ambitious Project Loon was launched in June 2013 in New Zealand to provide free internet access to places where providing internet is not feasible for the government.
What does it do?
Project Loon uses helium filled balloons which float in the stratosphere, roughly about 25 km from the surface of the earth. This is twice the height at which airplanes fly. The balloons will fly at the 40th Southern parallel latitude and all the countries that fall on this line will receive internet access as the balloons are expected to form a ring around the world, connecting all points on the line.
Google’s choice of latitude is interesting as it poses lesser problems compared to ones closer to the equator in terms of number of balloons, wind speeds, UV radiation and temperature changes. Sadly, the number of countries on this line is just four, which includes New Zealand (starting point), Australia, Chile and Argentina along with copious quantities of the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, Atlantic Ocean and a couple of islands here and there. Their mission is to provide internet access to everyone under their coverage.
How does it Work?
The balloons will form a ring around the 40th Parallel South. As it flies 20 km above the surface, winds at that height vary greatly both in speed as well as direction. Some algorithms have been pre-coded into the balloon to allow it to maintain its intended course by flying into the wind that is in the right direction. This will allow it to form a network with other balloons on the same path.
The balloon’s envelope is made from sheets of polyethylene plastic to allow it to last at least 100 days before it is taken down. The gas inside is let out slowly to bring it back to earth and to prevent crashes, a parachute is also present.
The balloon uses solar energy using an array of solar panels to power its electronics up to 100 Watts and also charge an on-board Lithium-ion battery for use during the night.
The basket carries the gizmos like antennas that connect the balloon to the ground as well as to other balloons. The antenna uses 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz bands for communication which provide connectivity to a ground area of 40 km at 3G speeds.
The people who launch the balloons are called Pilots. You can join the Pilot testing program by signing up on their official website. These pilots will help Google in launching the balloons into the stratosphere through strategic locations.
Flightradar24 provides real-time tracking of the balloons just like any other flight. You can see that from the images provided below. It is listed as I-74. You can follow the project on their Google+ page. We hope to see that the project succeeds and gets implemented on all latitudes across the globe.
Fly High Loon!
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