In 2014, a rural school on the outskirts of Campo Mayor in Brazil was connected to the Internet. Ordinary event, if not for one “but.” Connection was made through a stratospheric balloon. This event was the first success of the ambitious project Project Loon, a subsidiary of Alphabet. And after 5 years, the governments of the countries affected by the strongest hurricane and earthquake, turned to Loon with an official request for help in ensuring Internet connection. Cloud4Y talks about how Google’s cloud connectivity has come true.
Project Loon is interesting in that it offers to solve the problem of Internet connection in the regions, for some reason cut off from civilization and the global economic system. This is not necessarily the result of a natural disaster. The problem may lie in the geographical remoteness or inconvenient location of the region. Be that as it may, if a person has a smartphone, he will be able to connect to the network thanks to the balloons designed by Loon.
The quality of communication is also on the level. In February 2016, Google announced the achievement of a stable laser communication between two balloons at a distance of 62 miles (100 km). The connection was stable for many hours, in the daytime and at night, and a data transfer rate of 155 Mbps was recorded.
How it works
The idea may seem simple. Loon took the most important components of the cell tower and redesigned them so that they could be transported in a balloon at an altitude of 20 km. This is significantly higher than airplanes, wildlife and weather. And therefore safer. Loon balloons can withstand harsh conditions in the stratosphere, where wind speeds can reach 100 km / h, and temperatures can drop to -90 ° C.
Each ball has a special capsule – a module that controls the Loon system. All equipment on the ball runs on renewable energy. Solar panels power the system during the day and charge the built-in battery for nighttime operation. Antennas on Loon balls provide connection to ground stations through an extensive mesh network, allowing mobile device owners to be online without using any additional equipment. In the event of an accident and the destruction of the balloon, a hardware module weighing 15 kg descends with an emergency parachute.
The height of the balloon can vary due to the use of an auxiliary balloon filled with helium from the main balloon for climb. And for descent from the auxiliary cylinder, helium is pumped back to the main one. The maneuvering is so effective that in 2015, Loon was able to fly 10,000 kilometers, reaching the desired point with an accuracy of 500 meters.
Each balloon with an area of a tennis court is made of highly reliable flexible plastic and is designed for 150 days of flight. Such durability is the result of large-scale testing of materials for the container (ball shell). This material should prevent helium leakage and cylinder damage at low temperatures. In the stratosphere, where the balls are launched, ordinary plastic becomes fragile and easily deteriorates. Even a tiny 2 mm hole can shorten the life of the ball by a few weeks. And the search for a 2-mm hole in a ball of 600 sq.m. – that’s another pleasure.
In the process of testing the materials of one of the project managers, it dawned on condom manufacturers that they were experiencing similar problems. Unplanned openings are also undesirable in this industry. Turning to their experience, the Loon team performed several specific tests that allowed us to create new materials and change the structure of balloons, which led to an increase in the life of the balloon. This summer we managed to achieve a “run” of 223 days!
The Loon team emphasizes that they created not just another balloon, but a “smart” device. Launched from a special launch pad, Loon balloons can fly to any country in the world. Machine algorithms predict wind patterns and make decisions about moving a ball up or down into a layer of wind blowing in the right direction. The navigation system functions autonomously, and human operators control the movement of the ball and can intervene if necessary.